Spending her childhood summers in the cabin her grandparents built on Hebgen Lake in 1932, Lynda "Lyndy" Caine developed a deep, abiding love for Montana. The summers were a chance to experience an entirely different way of life than she knew in the city. Her only luxuries were separate boys’ and girls’ outhouses, and water came from a spigot outside and had to be heated on a stove. Without mail service, messages had to be hand-delivered. Food was packed in from town, and there were no phones. Still, once the chores were done for the day, the woods and water were ripe for exploring. Lyndy recalls how they would run like “wild heathens.”
Over the years, Montana’s enchanting summers grounded her and became pivotal in her life. She had no doubt that when she had children, she would raise them in Montana. It was no surprise then, that years later when she finally felt the need to carve out her own niche on the lake, Lyndy purchased a 200-acre spread, bordered by Watkins Creek. Because Hebgen Lake is surrounded by a large amount of Forest Service land, Lyndy felt very fortunate to acquire such a sizeable piece of property. Here, she and her daughter could build their own lifetime of memories.
It wasn’t long, however, before change came rapidly to the lake. Directly across from her, on the opposite shore, large parcels of land were being carved into subdivisions. Eager buyers quickly bought up the fragmented land, despite the hefty price tags. Secretly, Lyndy fretted about the fate of the lovely Firehole Ranch that bordered her property.
With a rich heritage dating back to its founding in the 1860s, the Firehole Ranch had gained great acclaim as a fly fishing destination, named one of the top ten in the world. Generations of loyal guests returned annually to fish its fabled waters, and Lyndy understood the draw. The Firehole Ranch offered a rare respite from today’s fast-paced, wired world—a chance to experience an entirely different way of life. She couldn’t bear to think of not only the place, but the experience, being forever lost and replaced with 20-acre ranchettes.
When Lyndy got word that her worst fears were about to come to fruition and the lovely ranch was to be subdivided, she seized the opportunity to purchase the ranch. With one bold move, based strictly on faith and a desire to protect a way of life, she managed to preserve the memories and experiences of guests past, present, and future. Soon after, she allocated her water rights to Trout Unlimited, thereby safeguarding the nearby Watkins Creek fishery. She also donated a percentage of each guest's stay to environmental groups that work to preserve Montana’s wide open spaces.
Lyndy then undertook the painstaking restoration work necessary to bring the main lodge back to its original grandeur. Many, given the amount of land, would have chosen to modernize and expand instead. But one cannot create history from scratch. Today, the ranch's rich heritage can be seen and felt everywhere, in the smallest details. From the wicker creels that softly light the way to the cabins at night, to the highly glossed, heavily scuffed wood floors in the main lodge, Lyndy has taken great care to subtly remind guests that many have passed this way before. As a result of her efforts, the ranch is now listed as a National Historic District. This designation includes the entire original ranch, first established in the 1860s, corrals and all.
Although there is no historic designation for preserving an experience, Lyndy has managed to do that by preserving the Firehole Ranch’s greatest gift: the chance to completely escape from the modern world. Many guests find it a welcome reprieve to learn that their snug cabins, nestled in the woods, are free of televisions or computers. “I’ve actually had guests thank me,” Lyndy remarks. “Most of them have very complex, busy, intense lives. It is a relief for them to have a simple agenda for the day. . . .We take great pleasure in watching them reconnect with themselves and the natural world."
In fact, helping her guests decompress is perhaps the most rewarding aspect of her job. “How much fun, to have a job helping people to enjoy themselves,” she remarks. Ample testament to her success, in that regard, can be felt in the thank-you cards she receives from her guests. Most recently, a couple wrote: “Carol and I returned to Boston on Friday night with visions of the ranch and its environs still dancing in our heads. Indeed, because of the week just spent with you, some things will never seem the same. Case in point: in the taxi from Boston's airport to our home, we traveled on the drive along the Charles River (which runs between Boston and Cambridge)—just as we have done dozens of times; this time though (and despite the fact that it was nearly midnight), I mused 'Hmm, I wonder if one can fly fish the Charles River!'"
Lyndy beams as she reads over these thank-you cards, clearly touched that her guests have come to share her love for this special place. “People can do this,” she points out, “Save it, and share it.”
For more information about the ranch, visit fireholeranch.com.
ORVIS FLY FISHING LODGE OF THE YEAR 2013
By Meghan O'Neal
Already boasting a slot on the Forbes Top 10 Fly Fishing Lodges in the World, the Firehole Ranch can now add the Orvis-Endorsed Fly Fishing Lodge of the Year 2013 to its accreditation. The historic West Yellowstone lodge competed with six other finalists for this award, based primarily on customer reviews regarding overall excellence in a fly fishing experience. For over 20 years, Orvis has been recognizing excellence in sporting experiences through its Endorsed Lodges Outfitters and Guides program, and this year Montana's privately owned piece of paradise came away with top honors. The Firehole Ranch gives guests a unique experience, removing them from the strain of the modern world and providing a truly rustic fly fishing escape. Whether guests plan a serious week of fishing or just want to get away, the Firehole Ranch is the intimate retreat fishers look for. Fishers from all over come to Firehole Ranch to experience the secret that Montanans know as a way of life: in these fast-paced times, sometimes all the soul needs is to stop, put everything aside, and reconnect with Mother Nature. Congratulations to everyone at Firehole Ranch for all your hard work, you deserve the recognition.
Winners were announced at a ceremony in Missoula, watch the video here