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Montana experience: Couple purchases, renovates Anglers Lodge south of Hamilton

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The true Montana log cabin experience on a private lake is only a few minutes away from downtown Hamilton.

Angler’s Lodge is a hidden gem, offering many options and amenities for a private getaway or for large groups – like family reunions and weddings.

Mike and Debbie Johnson lived in a city, and owned a large nursing home with heavy business responsibilities. One visit to Montana and they traded it all in.

“Debbie had never been to Montana,” said Mike. “We jumped in the motor home and took a weeklong vacation to Glacier Park, and as we were coming back into the city Debbie looked so sad. At the nursing home, we worked 16-hour days, every day. We had 50 employees and 40 residents and it was a lot of paperwork and drama. We did have a lot of good friends and good employees. But we sold everything and bought the opportunity to get out of the city, enjoy being a part of a smaller community and watch people enjoying life instead of facing the end of life.”

The Johnsons looked at RV parks and other businesses around Montana and almost invested in one at Hungry Horse.

“We came upon this one that Del and Judy Fowler had, and bought it last May – the day after our son graduated from high school,” said Debbie. “He stayed there to hang out with his friends for the summer and to sell the house. The rest of us moved here, and on June 1, we took over. We just jumped in with both feet – we had no idea what we were doing. Judy was so nice, she left her notes and clients’ reservations.”

They began operating and refurbishing June 1 – pouring energy and resources into their investment. First they started with replacing all the carpeting and linoleum, and then they replaced the chinking between the logs and applied over 300 gallons of stain to all the buildings which now match.

“Those are real cabins, with real chinking, we didn’t realize they had drafts like that,” said Debbie. “It has made a big difference.”

Lodging accommodations are plentiful.

The lodge has two lodge suites – studio apartments – on both sides with their own entrances and can each sleep two guests – or add two more with the couch that folds out.

There are five 20-by-25 deluxe cabins that each sleep six – with a master bedroom, a loft with twin beds, a living room, a dining room, a bathroom and a full kitchen with pots, pans all utensils and linens.

“All you need to do is bring yourself, your clothes and your food and you’re golden,” said Mike.

They have two chalets for larger families which have two stories, two entrances or inside there is a door to allow the top and bottom to be one big cabin (each sleeping up to 10).

“There’s a common doorway like in a motel – when you want to be with your kids but don’t really want to be with your kids,” added Mike.

The new cabins on the west side of the lake sleep four. The first one is ADA compliant – completely handicapped accessible with lower cabinets and a large shower with a bench to accommodate wheelchair users.

“We figure everybody needs a chance to enjoy life,” said Debbie. “We wanted to make sure that we could offer that.

“The last cabin will be our honeymoon cabin – it will come with our package that we offer with the pavilion for when people book their weddings.”

The honeymoon cabin is the furthest away from everything and will have a king size canopy bed and all new furniture from Blue Dog Furniture out of Missoula.

“Blue Dog uses downed wood,” said Debbie. “The work that Keith does is amazing. He doesn’t go out and cut down living pines, he looks for all the stuff that’s dead.”

“All the dressers, beds, tables and chairs will all be log,” said Mike. “We’ll eventually do the same to all the other cabins.”

The Johnsons have added an 18th century wedding arbor on a 10-by-10 cement pad with over 500 bulbs and vines planted around the edges. They are adding a weather station and a webcam to the website they are building. Ducks, geese, turtles, frogs and fish live at the lake and often they are visited by owls, osprey and eagles.

“One night we had over 350 Canadian geese,” said Mike. “It was beautiful. As soon as the sun came up they were off – on their way.”

The Angler’s Lodge has a 40-by-50 foot pavilion with power and lights and grand plans for a fireplace and a barbecue. The far end of the shore will be grass and a fire pit.

“We also want to help the community and have community functions here,” said Mike. “Invite Ducks Unlimited or the museum – so everyone can enjoy the wildlife. We have plenty of parking. We’re going to organize talent to come out and play guitars and invite the community.”

“We just want to be part of the community,” added Debbie. “Nobody even has known we are here. I got bored and got a job at the bank. It gets me out and helps me to meet people. But people think we are part of Angler’s Roost, but we aren’t.”

“As soon as everything is done, we’re going to have a little get-together for everyone who helped us,” said Mike. “They’ve all been so great to us.”

“They are amazing people who put their heart in everything they do,” said Debbie. “Ravalli County bank financed the project, Iten Company, High Country Carpentry, Smokin’ Painting, Western Excavation, Sacks Concrete, Pinnacle – Rodger DeHaan, and everyone else that helped.”

There is a nature trail around the lake and an easement to the river. The grounds are currently experiencing construction and winter weather. The other seasons have plants in full bloom, green grass and trees – perfect for enjoying the lake and private patios.

Some customers rent the entire facility for weddings and family reunions. Reservations are filling up for the summer months – they already have three weddings and six family reunions and many return customers. Some hunters have even made their reservations for the fall.

“Guides in the area send their customers to us,” said Mike. “We are perfect for people who want the Montana experience of being in a cabin and enjoying the lake and wildlife.”

“People ask us why we picked this for something to do,” said Debbie. “All we did was took somebody else’s dream that they had going and we added ours. It’s a good thing for us.”

Their son, AJ, is 19 and is considering attending the University of Montana and is also looking at playing baseball. Currently, he helps at Angler’s Lodge and is a snowboard instructor at Lost Trail.

“Working at the ski hill definitely helped a lot of people get introduced to my life,” he said. “It’s like a giant family of skiers and snowboarders.”

“It’s a small place where everyone knows each other,” said Debbie. “It is so beautiful and peaceful.”

“That’s what we were looking for,” said Mike. “The Bitterroot fits us real well. Hamilton has everything we need. We want to be part of the community in Ravalli County.”

Angler’s Lodge is the perfect place to get away from the hustle of life. Angler’s Lodge, 815B Highway 93 South, Hamilton. Reservations are currently made by phone (406) 363-0980.

Reach reporter Michelle McConnaha at 363-3300 or


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