Another Bad Drought and Fire Year

Another Bad Drought and Fire Year

We thought the 2015 drought and fire year was bad. One of the many area fires started within a mile of the cabin early in the summer that year, and the lake level of our shallow little Duck Lake dropped very, very low. The summer of 2017 has managed to eclipse it, though.

Forests exist because of water, and it’s not unusual to see a couple of rainy days (or more) during a typical week’s stay in Glacier Country. Rains keep the fires at bay, water levels high and forests green. 2017 started off great with lots of snow, followed by lots of rain in the spring. We were rejoicing and looking forward to a normal, if not great water year. Then a high pressure system parked itself over the western United States, and the temps soared while the rains ceased. We haven’t had hardly a drop of water in Glacier Country since mid-June. All the green grasses that grew with all the spring rains dried up, the water evaporated, and Montana and the surrounding states and Canadian provinces became a tinderbox. Dry lighting started several fires in the northwestern US and Canada which have raged for weeks. Air quality recently has been horrible. Duck Lake is lower than I think we’ve ever seen it. 2017 started out so well, and now has eclipsed the 2015 fire and drought season.

This is Mother Nature, though. You have rainy years and drought. It goes in waves and cycles.

The year we bought the Duck Lake Vacation Rental (2003), it was a horrible fire year. It seemed all of Glacier National Park was on fire. A huge fire (the now infamous Robert fire) started about one mile away from the cabin one day before we moved in in late July. Our neighbors across the road saw us show up with a U-Haul and semi-jokingly asked if they could use the U-Haul to move their stuff out after we emptied it. All we could do was hope for the best. We spent the rest of that summer watching helicopters with enormous buckets fly in to dip water out of Duck and nearby Spoon lake to drop on the fire. It was fascinating to watch!!! The air was filled with smoke, and it permeated the walls and every fiber of fabric in the cabin, taking years to purge the odor from inside the house.

This year, the big fire making national news is the Sprague fire, located 5 miles north/northeast of West Glacier. It’s 17 miles from the cabin as the crow flies. Other area fires, several burning for several weeks, have contributed to smoky conditions, but everyone is focused on the Sprague. The Sperry Chalet, a 103 year old icon / establishment / attraction in the back country of Glacier National Park was lost to the Sprague fire. Lake McDonald Lodge closed early this year for safety reasons due to the threat of the Sprague fire. Going To The Sun Road between the southern end of Lake McDonald and Logan Pass is also closed for safety reasons due to the Sprague fire. To say the 2017 fire season has been emotional is an understatement.

Happily, the weather is now beginning to turn to fall. A cold front came through today that dropped traces of snow on the Logan Pass visitor center. The cooler temps, along with predicted rains over the next few days, should extinguish the fires and put an end to the 2017 fire season in short order. Halleluiah!

Fall is an AMAZING time to visit Glacier Country and Glacier National Park. With the fire season winding down, we hope that those who kept the faith that the area fires would be under control at this time fully enjoy and appreciate all that Glacier National Park has to offer during this spectacular time of year. Looking at today’s weather and forecasts, we’d personally love to be there right now.

Going-to-the-Sun Road is Fully Open

Going-to-the-Sun Road is Fully Open

Glacier National Park announced today that Going-to-the-Sun Road is now fully open. Yay!

This is one of the latest openings we’ve seen since we’ve been renting the Duck Lake Vacation Rental. We’ve seen it open as early as Memorial Day, and the latest opening ever was on July 13 in 2011. It’s typically open sometime in mid-June, but Mother Nature always dictates the date. It just depends on how much snow was received over the winter, and how much damage was done to the road due to avalanches.

The road will close in the fall when the first reasonably significant snowfall occurs. Last year, that happened on October 11. This year, who knows?

We found this link to the history of the open and close dates for Logan Pass in Glacier National Park on the National Park Service’s website: Logan Pass Opening and Closing Dates  It hasn’t been updated since the opening date for 2015, but it shows just how wildly unpredictable the dates can be.

With the opening of the road, we can now declare that the summer tourist season is fully underway. Let’s hope for awesome weather with just enough rainfall to keep the forest fires from starting this year.

Why We No Longer Advertise On HomeAway or VRBO

Why We No Longer Advertise On HomeAway or VRBO

VRBO.com and their parent company, HomeAway.com, were acquired by travel giant Expedia. Sweeping changes have occurred following that acquisition which include charging you, the traveler, a 6-12% “booking fee” (they call it a Service Fee) on top of the rental cost, and we’ve heard mention of some booking fees as high as 15%. That’s $100 – $400+, depending on the rental property and length of stay, that comes out of your pocket and goes directly to HomeAway/VRBO. The most recent change is removing all direct contact information for travelers and property owners, forcing them to use the HomeAway/VRBO messaging system for communication prior to booking under the guise of “safety and privacy”, but in reality it’s to prevent travelers like you from circumventing their system to avoid the new Service Fee.

The new HomeAway / VRBO business model does not align with how we wish to manage our vacation rental or interact with travelers, so after 8 years of listing with them we have decided to stop advertising through their family of websites. We will continue advertising the Duck Lake Vacation Rental through our own website here, as well as other “multiple listing” websites like HomeEscape and Lake House Vacations which do not charge “booking fees” to travelers and still allow and encourage prospective guests to interact with owners via phone or email prior to booking.

We truly are original, old fashioned “vacation rental by owners” (not a property management company), and our goal has always been to provide our guests an amazing rental experience. Should your life’s journeys ever bring you to Glacier Country, be it your first experience or a return trip, we hope you will consider our Duck Lake Vacation Rental home as part of your travel plans.

Some tips for searching for vacation rentals to avoid unnecessary and useless “booking fees”:

  1. Search vacation rental listing websites that do not charge any fees to the traveler. HomeEscape (https://www.homeescape.com/) is growing in popularity daily. Lake House Vacations (http://www.lakehousevacations.com/) is another listing site free for travelers to use that may be worth checking out. New “free to book” listing sites are popping up regularly as vacation rental owners become frustrated with the new policies being imposed by the corporate giants.
  2. Search the tourism websites for your desired destination and look for lodging/accommodations links that take you directly to owner/manager websites. We have always been listed on http://www.visitmt.com/, Montana’s official tourism site, and many of our former guests had found us there.
  3. Do a Google search for your destination plus the term “cabin rental”, “cottage rental” or “vacation rental” (e.g. “Glacier National Park cabin rental”), and look for listings by owners or “free to book” regional listing sites in the results. Be sure to go to the 2nd, 3rd and 4th pages of the search results, as many small vacation rental owner sites won’t pop up on the first page.
  4. Search Facebook for vacation rentals! There’s a growing list of them there, both individual sites as well as destination-specific ones which contain multiple listings.
  5. When searching any of the listing sites that charge traveler booking fees like VRBO, HomeAway, Airbnb, Flipkey, TripAdvisor, VacationRentals (they all have “booking charges”), make a list of your top 5 or 10 noting the name of the property and location (town, island, city). Most owners call their house something and it should be pretty easy to figure out (ours has always been Duck Lake Vacation Rental). DO NOT CONTACT THE OWNER/MANAGER THROUGH THE BOOKING SITE. Instead, do a Google search for the house name and location to see if some of your favorites have a website or Facebook page — many already do, and many more are building websites every day. From there you can contact them directly. Most have current availability calendars, and some even offer “book it now” and online payment options through their own websites.

If you follow the above steps, you can save yourself enough on “booking fees” to cover the cost of groceries for the week, a fun excursion during your trip, dinner at a very nice restaurant, or any number of things you would rather spend $100 to $400 dollars on.

We hope you found this information useful enough to share with friends and family who prefer booking vacation rentals for their trips.

Columbia Falls Community Market

Columbia Falls Community Market

Spring has sprung in Glacier Country! Seasonal businesses are starting to open again (including the Duck Lake Vacation Rental), and summertime activities are beginning to get underway. One really fun activity that just started up again is the local Columbia Falls Community Market, which occurs every Thursday from 5PM – 7:30PM from now through September 21.

The Columbia Falls Community Market surrounds the west and north sides of O’Brien’s Liquor and Wine Store, located at 830 1st Avenue West at the junction of 1st Avenue West and Montana Highway 2. 1st Avenue West is one block west of Nucleus Drive, which is the main street that runs through “greater downtown” Columbia Falls.

The Columbia Falls Community Market features live music, food, locally brewed Montana beers, and area vendors selling art, handmade products and locally grown produce when in season. Grab a bite to eat and wander around the vendor tables while listening to the local musicians. The Community Market is quite the party and a local’s hangout, so if you want a “Northwest Montana locals experience” while visiting Glacier National Park, you need to check out this event!

For more information about the Columbia Falls Community Market, see their webpage at https://www.cfcommunitymarket.com/ or find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/columbiafallscommunitymarket/.

A New Year with a Fresh Start

A New Year with a Fresh Start

We don’t know many, if any, people who thought 2016 was their best year ever. Virtually everyone we’ve spoken with has said the same thing: They can’t wait for 2016 to end so they can start the new year with a fresh start and renewed hope for better times ahead.

We feel the same, and look forward to the coming new year with tempered hope sprinkled with trepidation. We, too, have had our share of battles, disappointments and “out of the blue” life changes handed to us over the past 12 months. While many of these are personal, one change that affected us significantly in relation to our Duck Lake Vacation Rental property was the decision by HomeAway / VRBO, which we have advertised on since we decided to share it with others as a vacation rental in 2009, to change their business model and strategy. While that new strategy may work well with larger property management companies who are looking to maximize bookings of their extended inventory of properties, it does not work well for simple folks like us with a single second home that we want to share with others.

When we decided to turn our second home into a vacation rental in 2009, our goal wasn’t about maximizing profits, but to make good use of a fabulous home in a great location by offering those who choose to rent from us an exceptional vacation rental experience. We knew what we liked to see and experience whenever we rented any home, or even a hotel room, and we wanted to incorporate the best of those experiences into our rental strategy. Not many vacation rentals will block out a full 24 hours to allow for cleaning and to ensure everything is in full working order before the next guest arrives. When someone books a 3 night stay with us, it actually blocks 5 nights off of our calendar – the night prior to arrival, and the night following departure. We lose a lot of rental income doing this, but it’s not about the money – it’s about the guest experience.

We have also been able to hire people who truly care about making sure the home is in tip top shape for each and every guest. Because they are not rushed to turn it around in 4-5 hours between guests, they can attend to small details that make our guests say, “Wow!”, when they walk in the door for the first time.

We’ve also never seen a vacation rental property solicit feedback from guests like we do. We’ve stayed at vacation rentals where the owners or property managers didn’t seem to care about keeping everything (or anything!) in full working order, and some even punish their guests for reporting problems (that happen to us once, where we were blamed by the owners for causing the problems and malfunctions we discovered during our stay and had our damage deposit withheld!). We, on the other hand, actually encourage our guests to point out issues so we can get them fixed right away. Our property’s caretakers won’t always notice every problem, so we appreciate it when our guests tell us when something is not quite right so we can address it quickly.

Because we strive to stand out above the rest and offer a superior vacation rental experience, we don’t believe we can continue our relationship with HomeAway / VRBO any longer after our current advertising subscription with them expires in mid-2017. We are already seeing a significant drop in inquiries and bookings because we won’t subscribe to their “Book It Now” service, which immediately puts a hold for the amount of the reservation deposit on the traveler’s credit card while the property manager or owner reviews the request and determines if they want to accept or reject the booking.  We are also very unhappy about the new Service Fee being charged to travelers who book through the HomeAway / VRBO family of websites. They say the Service Fee buys you a “book with confidence guarantee”, but do you really think HomeAway is going to get a problem like a sink unclogged or a broken icemaker repaired during your stay? No, it will be the property manager or owner. Calling HomeAway will likely just delay getting any issue resolved and make your vacation rental experience frustrating. The original concept of VRBO – Vacation Rental By Owner – is now gone and has been replaced with a non-personal hotel booking style experience that cost travelers more money with no real service in return.

It remains to be seen if our new endeavor to manage our own website and advertising through sources like Google, Bing and Facebook work or not. Maybe our unwillingness to be assimilated into this new way of renting vacation homes will prove to us that we are simply dinosaurs, and we will be forced out of the vacation rental business. However, we truly hope we can continue sharing our home with others looking for an amazing Glacier National Park vacation experience, and look forward to our new beginnings in 2017 as a truly independent vacation rental property.

Here’s to a fresh start for 2017. Happy New Year!

Glacier Bark Kennels Open For Business

Glacier Bark Kennels Open For Business

Erin Madsen, the daughter of one of our wonderful neighbors on Duck Lake, just opened a new dog kennel business near Columbia Falls called Glacier Bark Kennels. Glacier Bark Kennels is the closest kennel to Glacier National Park.

We stopped in today to take a tour of the facilities, which sits on a picturesque 4.5 acres. What a wonderful place! The kennel buildings are temperature controlled, boasting the only air conditioned kennels in the area. There are also several securely fenced outdoor dog run areas where your dog can safely stretch his/her legs.

If you are in need of kennel services in Glacier Country, be sure to contact Glacier Bark Kennels. Their contact information can be found here: http://www.glacierbarkkennels.com/contact.html

Welcome to Our Duck Lake Vacation Rental Website!

Welcome to Our Duck Lake Vacation Rental Website!

We are excited to have finally launched our own website and initiate our independence from the “big” vacation rental advertising sites! We were quite content with listing our property on Vacation Rental By Owner and its affiliated websites for over 7 years until their “traveler fees” were implemented in early 2016. We couldn’t bring ourselves to allow such unnecessary and useless fees to be charged to the guests who book our property, so because of this, the Duck Lake Vacation Rental by Glacier National Park website was born.

As we get our bearings and begin to navigate the process of running our own website, we’ll be posting information here regarding happenings in Glacier Country and other information we think may be newsworthy or helpful to future Glacier National Park visitors.

Thank you for visiting, and we promise to post some local news and information on this blog page on a regular basis.

Romany & Roger