City Lifestyle

Want to start a publication?

Learn More

Featured Article

Building Sustainability in Gallatin County

Lazy J River Ranch

Nestled near the Missouri headwaters, on the banks of the Jefferson River, lies a ranch that defies convention in its sustainability and one-of-a-kind design. Jonathon and Jessica Stites have dedicated years to creating a space where they live and play in a reclaimed 200-acre recreational ranch that complements the surrounding landscape without consuming a large degree of resources in the process. They live off the land in harmony with a wide variety of wildlife that graces their property to their delight and to the delight of their guests lucky enough to experience their corner of paradise. The area they chose to live in is rich in history and full of old-time Montana traditions. They ride horses or ATVs into Willow Creek for rib dinners, drive to Cardwell to eat at a local steakhouse, take in movies at the old movie theater in Whitehall, and saddle up the horses and ride into Three Forks to enjoy the historic Sacajawea Hotel. The imposing Tobacco Root mountains, with their centerpiece being an old volcano crater called Hollow Top, provide ample camping excursion opportunities. Motorbikes and memorable parties on the property are combined with local rodeo action to give additional recreational time well spent. When the neighbors need help cutting cattle they join in as many Montana neighbors still do. When not socializing or spending time away from the property, there’s plenty of recreation and enjoyment to be had right there at home. With pheasant, turkey, deer, elk, and an occasional moose within a stone’s throw of the complex, they experience a never-ending accompaniment of wildlife. The quiet of the ranch and limited proximity of neighbors, combined with the river, give plenty of opportunities to enjoy the wildlife and sustainably hunt to provide food enough that they rarely leave to acquire anything unless they want to. A deep swimming hole nearby cools them off in the summer months and provides extra fun. Enough birdlife exists to be a bird watcher's dream. Their large-scale garden gives them enough vegetables to complement the game on the property as food sources. None of this would be possible without the reclamation and sustainability practices that exist on this ranch. The Scandinavian-themed building complex and surrounding horse pens and pastures are designed to be as low maintenance and energy efficient as possible. Jon’s background is in construction, so he knew how to maximize things such as insulation to ensure they weren’t losing heat in the winter or gaining it in the summer. The barn and shop have ultra-heavy entry doors and the house has triple-pane German sliding glass doors that ensure energy efficiency. The well is connected to a system of hydrants that are buried deep and insulated to prevent freezing. Even the horses are low maintenance with auto waterers that they can push on with their nose to get water on demand. All the irrigation and watering systems are centralized in a custom-designed mechanical building where everything can be turned on or off as needed and blown out when temperatures drop too low. Insulation isn’t the only energy efficient aspect of the ranch. There’s solar power throughout that powers many of the traditional electric needs including the watering system in the garden. They are tied to the electric grid; however, much of the time they send power into the grid and only pull it when needed. Passive solar heat pours through the triple-pane, three-thousand-pound windows in the main house to drastically limit the usage of the fireplace even in below zero temperatures. There’s enough solar that they don’t need to rely on batteries, and propane supplies heat for many of the other structures when needed, which isn’t much. They can go a full year on a 700-gallon propane tank without refilling. The result is a cost that is a small fraction of what similar-sized ranches demand. The building complex isn’t the only part of the property that took a lot of work and ingenuity. They’ve removed old fencing and dead wood, planted alfalfa and corn for the wildlife, restored pastures that had been grazed by cattle, planted hundreds of trees, added sod and irrigation where needed, and installed new fencing and road mix for aesthetic and functional purposes. Everything that is done is completed with efficiency and sustainability, complementing the surrounding landscape, all with sustaining wildlife in mind. After a day on the ranch enjoying the beautiful surroundings and a wide variety of recreation, the house beckons with its simplistic charm. Mountain vistas surround it with the light available from every angle from the massive windows. The design is minimalist with a charming kitchen and hand-built steel staircase that runs to the second floor living quarters. Combining old Montana living with new technology to have this space to enjoy nature is a testament to what sustainability can do today. Jon and Jessica have successfully combined them both at the Lazy J River Ranch.