Luxurious properties in the great outdoors


Hollywood has long kept alive the romance of the American West, but it rarely depicts the day-to-day responsibilities of ranch ownership, whether it's balancing the books, managing wildlife or fixing pipes that freeze in the winter.

"Everybody grew up watching John Wayne and the Western heroes," says ranch broker Jim Nerlin, partial owner of Telluride Real Estate Corp. "A lot of (buyers) visualize wanting to be (those heroes), or they want their kids to experience that. They come out with that idea, but they find out that it's a lot more work than it is romantic."

For buyers seeking the romance and the recreation but not the responsibility, new forms of shared-ownership ranch property have emerged. Primarily second-home developments, they provide a sense of community and the benefits of on-site staff and property management. Some offer whole ownership of cabins, estates or condos and shared ownership of common lands, while others offer fractional ownership of individual homes on ranch developments. Some cater to a more solitary buyer who wants scenic beauty and seclusion. Others feature luxury amenities like spas and fine dining, along with every activity under the sun, from skiing, golfing, horseback riding and fishing to group cookouts and pack trips.

"A lot of people can't afford to buy a ranch and have all those amenities, but they can afford $1.5 million, $3 million, $4 million to buy part of a ranch," says Ranch Marketing Associates broker Billy Long. "You share in all those amenities, but you own your own piece of the rock. ... Plus you've got some neighbors, and you don't have to reinvent the wheel."

Whatever one's vision of the West, there's a shared ranch that fits the bill. Following are some of the very best.

The Club at Black Rock

Overlooking the 30-mile-long Lake Coeur d'Alene in Harrison, Idaho, is the Club at Black Rock, a private residential golf community that sprawls across 1,800 acres. With 726 homesites priced from $300,000-$2 million and an array of completed, turnkey homes, this shared-ownership community offers everything from golf-course cottages to waterfront properties.

Developer Marshall Chesrown was born and raised in the area, and like most Black Rock residents, he has a passion for all things outdoors, especially equestrian sports. As a result, club members benefit from the nearly 4,000-acre Black Rock Ranch. Owned by Chesrown's Black Rock Development, it includes a state-of-the-art stable, indoor and outdoor arenas, a lounge, miles of mountain trails and an in-the-works equestrian center.

The property also offers countless outdoor activities, from fly-fishing and hiking to watersports and a kids camp, along with a plush, ranch-style clubhouse offering fine dining, a golf shop, a spa, a fitness center and an Olympic-sized pool. And Black Rock is a golfer's heaven, with an 18-hole championship course and 18-hole putting course, both designed by renowned golf course architect Jim Engh, and another 18-hole championship course under construction.

"If you look around at all the surrounding open space around the golf course, around the homes, everything is left very natural, and we've got tons and tons of wildlife. It's a very mountainy feeling," Chesrown says. "I've just always believed that this is a very special place."

Cornerstone Colorado

Perched atop the Uncompahgre Plateau, once the summer home of the Tabeguache Utes Indian tribe, Cornerstone Colorado is a shared-ownership resort community that general manager Jim Mikula calls "removed but not remote." Encompassing 6,000 acres, Cornerstone is dotted with aspen groves and alpine meadows and surrounded by national parks and forests.

To preserve the purity of the land, developer Hunt Realty Investments has designated nearly 3,000 acres of the community as open space, and the property maintains a wildlife management plan covering both habitats and specific animals. Elk, mule deer, bears, redtail hawks and beavers make their home at Cornerstone.

Naturally, creature comforts of the human variety abound at Cornerstone as well, beginning with the homestead options ranging from a quarter of an acre to more than 100 acres. There are ranches, where residents can maintain up to three horses; golf-foursome cabins along a Greg Norman-designed championship course; estates of up to 20 acres; and homesites in the community's heart, Resort Village, where residents will have easy access to the planned Cornerstone Lodge (which will boast a spa, fitness center, pool, tennis courts, shopping, and a gourmet restaurant and bar). Fully furnished golf-foursome cabins start at $2.6 million; homesteads start at $300,000.

Cornerstone offers a host of activities, including horseback riding, camping, biking, fishing and hunting. In the winter, there's snowshoeing, snowmobiling and snow camping. Cross-country skiers can avail themselves of a trail system designed by former Olympian Pat Ahern, and close at hand are Telluride Ski Resort, Crested Butte Mountain Resort and

Silverton Mountain.

At Cornerstone, "you have the ability to be a 'gentleman rancher,' if you want to call it that, and yet you have access to all the amenities of the club," Mikula says. "You can run down to the clubhouse and have dinner if you'd like, even if you've been out riding your horse all day on your own ranch."

Everlands Lone Mountain Ranch

Offering a ranch experience without the responsibility of property ownership, Montana's Lone Mountain Ranch is a part of Everlands, best described as "an equity country club," says CEO Ken May, whereby individuals purchase memberships and have access to unique accommodations, amenities and services around the world -- all geared toward appreciation of the outdoor life.

Eighteen miles from Yellowstone National Park, Lone Mountain was "first homesteaded in 1926," general manager Ennion Williams explains. Close to Big Sky and Moonlight Basin ski resorts, it became a premier cross-country ski resort in 1977 and remains a sought-after destination for alpine and cross-country skiing, and a portion of the accommodations remains open to nonmember vacationers.

Lone Mountain, which hosts only one-week stays, offers just about every outdoor activity imaginable, including fly-fishing, horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, white-water rafting and canoeing. "Kids can be in the kids program, dad can go fishing, and mom can go horseback riding or hiking," Williams says. Adds Whitney Tilt, director of the Everlands Conservation Initiative, which works to ensure that Everlands is a good steward of its lands: "When you're in Montana staying at Lone Mountain Ranch, it's authentic Western.

The food is authentic, and the cabins date back to the Homestead era. ... There's an emphasis on experience, getting outdoors. This is not your chance to go to a beautiful place in the country and feel like you're still back in L.A."

Meriwether Ranch

Between Butte and Dillon, Mont., sits Meriwether Ranch, a shared- and fractional-ownership ranch community dubbed "the nation's first private residence club for the outdoorsman." Situated on a 724-acre swath of pristine wilderness, the property has only 34 lots. Half are for custom homesites, which start at $625,000, and half have been set aside for four-bedroom fractional residences, available in one-eighth and one-tenth ownerships and starting at $148,000.

Both whole and fractional owners can enjoy everything that Meriwether has to offer, including the property's Crane Meadows Equestrian Center; the nearby Canyon Creek Guest Ranch, an open-to-the-public dude ranch, where Meriwether members receive discounts and priority reservations; and more than 100,000 acres of adjacent public land, to which Meriwether holds an exclusive right-to-use permit.

Interestingly, one of the newest residents is a TV series, Orion Multimedia's "Ultimate Sportsman's Lodge," which just broke ground and will broadcast 100 episodes chronicling the lodge's construction on the DIY Network.

One of Meriwether's primary attractions is fishing. Running through the property are all three channels of the famed Big Hole River, which boasts some of the best fly-fishing in the world. What's more, parts of Meriwether are adjacent to the more than 3 million-acre Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.

"People can just walk onto the forest land," developer Dave Ellingson says.

But Meriwether isn't just a development project. Lifelong conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts, Ellingson and his wife, Emilie, are committed to the integrity of the land -- "As part of buying this property and making a commitment to do this project," he says, "we wanted to restore the land to as close to a native, natural state as possible" -- and to the ranch's history, which dates back to its original homesteading in 1854. Under the Ellingson's stewardship, it remains a working ranch and vital part of the community.

The Resort at Paws Up

"I'm sitting here in my office looking out the window, and it's rolling hills, and the calving barn and an open hay barn in the distance, and a field of alfalfa that's about to be cut," says Terre Short, general manager of the Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Mont. It sounds idyllic, and it is, as Paws Up is one of the most acclaimed wilderness destinations in the country. It combines high-end amenities -- including fine dining and a unique outdoor spa, Spa Town, made up of luxurious tents on the edge of a meadow -- with the natural beauty of the Montana countryside.

Paws Up, which sits on 10,000 acres (and leases another 27,000), was and is a vacation resort. But after hearing from so many guests who wished they could own a home there, Short explains, the property created what it calls the Wilderness Estates, which consists of 10 luxury ranch homes tucked into the woods, priced from $1.7 million-$1.8 million. The estates are part of a homeowner's association, and each receives an undivided interest in 200 acres of land.

Each 3,300-square-foot home has 1,600 square feet of exterior deck space, which comes complete with a six-person hot tub. The estates even feature unique artistic touches, like etched, frosted or sandblasted glass accents by artist Myni Ferguson. "You might have an elk in (the window of) your shower," Short says.

Buyers can take advantage of all of Paws Up's concierge services, amenities and activities, which include horseback riding, golf, ATVing, shooting activities, watersports and rappelling -- not to mention fly-fishing, as the property is located on the Blackfoot River, the famed fishing destination where 1992's "A River Runs Through It" was filmed.

Spanish Peaks

"The primary motivation (of buyers at Spanish Peaks) is to be part of a community of folks who want an authentic Montana experience for their families," executive vp Dean Genge says of the 5,700-acre private club community just outside of Bozeman. "It's a place where people want to be part of a community that has continuity, where people come back year after year, and families become friends and they establish family traditions that last for generations. ... The magic of Spanish Peaks is that it brings the family together doing the things that they love to do."

That includes a bevy of outdoor activities, including golf, as well as unique experiences like pack trips into Yellowstone, complete with gourmet dinners prepared in an "elaborate camp kitchen," says manager of outfitter services Matt Henningsen, who calls the trips "once-in-a-lifetime opportunities."

Spanish Peaks is a haven for skiers, too, as Big Sky Ski Resort is just a private ski-lift ride away.

Real estate options at Spanish Peaks are numerous. Sections of the club are still under construction, but when finished, the community will have 900 residences in an array of neighborhoods; on offer are finished homes such as condos and cabins, as well as expansive, undeveloped homesites permitted for a main residence, guest residence, barn and corral.

For undeveloped homesites and built products, the resident membership deposit is $65,000, and the golf membership deposit is $125,000. For developer products being built, 10% of the relevant membership is required, and monthly dues begin immediately. (Buyers can use the property until the sale closes, when the full amount is due.)

Sun West Ranch

Off the beaten path in the picturesque Madison Valley of southwestern Montana, Sun West Ranch is not your typical development. A shared-ranch community spanning 2,000 acres that include three miles of private access to the Madison River, it's a property for the more independent-minded buyer seeking a private piece of paradise rather than a resort experience.

"If someone calls and is interested in property here, if they ask me, 'What kind of activities do you have there?' I know they're not our buyer," says developer Heidi Gildred. Her husband, Ted, formerly the U.S. ambassador to Argentina, purchased the property in the 1970s, and the two share a love of the land and a passion for its preservation and protection. "People who come here entertain themselves. They either wade the river, they go on a float trip and fish the river, they go riding, most people saddle their own horses. ... You have to be relatively self-sufficient here, and we like it that way."

But that doesn't mean residents are on their own: A homeowner's association tends the grounds, and when temperatures fall below zero, staff look in on each home every day.

Sun West has a total of 55 homesites, with nine currently on the market (prices start at $875,000). Eighty% of the ranch -- 1,600 acres -- is owned in common and will never be developed. And to keep the land as pristine as possible, Sun West doesn't allow development along the river -- something virtually unheard of for a property with valuable riparian frontage. The ranch also prohibits hunting (resident hunters needn't go far to practice their hobby), and the property is thick with wildlife, including elk, moose, deer, coyotes, cranes, eagles and grouse. "They kind of know it's a safe haven now," Gildred says.

It's also a safe haven for people seeking the peace and privacy of unspoiled Big Sky Country. "We didn't do this with the idea of making a profit off the place," Gildred says. "We did it more as a labor of love."