Family Hospitality at the North Forty

Gentry family buys resort between Columbia Falls and Whitefish, adding wedding venue, glamping option

By Molly Priddy
Kirk Gentry and his daughter Jordan, pictured at North Forty Resort between Whitefish and Columbia Falls on April 15, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

COLUMBIA FALLS – Just off Highway 40 between Whitefish and Columbia Falls, the North Forty Resort sits nestled in a swath of trees, quiet and ready for a bustling summer season.

The warm season full of tourists is important for any lodging business in the Flathead Valley, but this summer is a special one for the North Forty, which is now under new ownership after the sale was completed in late February.

Owned for more than 20 years by the same family, Jo Ellen Retz sold the property to Kirk Gentry, who owns the Columbia Falls-based Gentry River Ranch, which offers eight vacation rentals in the form of riverside cabins and luxury homes.

As part of the new venture, Gentry’s daughter, Jordan Gentry, has helped take the reins at North Forty as the onsite manager, having worked previously at high-end hotels and resorts such as The Lodge at Whitefish Lake and The Resort at Paws Up.

Both of the Gentrys’ properties offer options for people seeking to stay in Northwest Montana’s idyllic scenery, Kirk Gentry said, but now they can offer a wider price range to accommodate more travelers.

The North Forty Resort is comprised of 22 cabins situated on 20 acres, and another 20 acres of wooded, untouched land. It also includes the Snowberry Center, a larger rental hall which can accommodate 50 to 60 people and includes a full kitchen.

The resort itself has been well maintained – “they’d been running it well,” Kirk Gentry said – so there were few improvements to make there.

But there’s plenty of opportunity for expansion into the wooded land, Jordan Gentry said, including a new wedding venue the resort is trying out this summer, along with the addition of glamour camping, or “glamping.”

So far, the new owners have cleared one spot near the cabins for a glamping sample site, which will also be available for rent during the summer, to give visitors an idea of what the Gentrys hope will be eight to 10 spots by next summer. There will be bathhouses built to accommodate those visitors, Jordan Gentry said.

“They feel like they can get the camping experience without roughing it,” she said.

The Gentrys also hope to tackle the pernicious issue of slower business seasons, namely in the spring and fall. Those can be dangerously slow times for lodging businesses, Kirk Gentry said, but the addition of weddings might be able to stave off the shoulder season blues.

In another effort to expand business into the colder seasons, Kirk Gentry said the North Forty would offer this upcoming winter monthly cabin rentals for about $1,600 to $1,700 during the chilly season. It’s an option for skiers who would like to stay in the valley for more than a week, he said, as well as those who like to visit during the offseason.

Already, the summer is lining up to be a busy one, with about one-third of the availabilities already snapped up. Kirk Gentry said that roughly half of the people who booked cabins at the North Forty last year did so online without even calling, which he said signals the type of visitor who makes a reservation perhaps a month ahead of time instead of 60 or 90 days, as is more typical with higher-end rentals.

Adding this resort to their existing lodging business made enough sense that the Gentrys tried to buy it before last summer, and “took another run at it” this year, with better success. Nearly all of the employees at the time stayed on, meaning a smoother transition leading into a hectic summer with a steep learning curve.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Jordan Gentry said.

For more information about the North Forty Resort, visit www.northfortyresort.com.