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Southern Pine sells huge tract to wealthy Texas couple

Daily Inter Lake | February 12, 2021 7:00 AM

An affluent couple from Texas recently purchased nearly 126,000 contiguous acres west of Kalispell from Southern Pine Plantations, the Georgia-based company that bought roughly 630,000 acres of timberlands in Northwest Montana from Weyerhaeuser in early 2020.

The new owners are Robyn and Mark Jones, founders and co-owners of Goosehead Insurance LLC, based in Westlake, Texas. The insurance agency was founded in 2003 by Robyn, who was later joined by Mark in 2004, and has since grown to include 1,000 franchise locations in more than 30 states, according to its website. With a net worth of $1.1 billion, Forbes has Robyn listed as one of the country’s wealthiest self-made women.

Mark Jones told the Daily Inter Lake on Monday that he and Robyn purchased the parcel, which stretches from the Rollins area west toward Lake McGregor and Hubbart Reservoir, primarily as a “legacy property” for their family.

“We want our great grandkids to enjoy it,” said Mark. He and Robyn have six children and 16 grandchildren. “This was a family investment really and when we discovered that property was an option, we knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The Jones family already owns roughly 200 acres below Whitefish Mountain Resort. According to the Montana Cadastral, the acreage is called Lookout Ridge LLC, which has a primary address based in Texas.

The address is nearly identical to the one that is registered with the Montana Secretary of State’s Office for Flathead Ridge Ranch LLC, the name under which the family’s new 125,800-acre property will operate. Records show the foreign limited liability company, originally registered in November 2019, was previously known as Lookout Ridge and Cattle Holdings.

Mark said the entire family has spent considerable time on Big Mountain over the years, where they have built a large home abutting the ski resort. While the Joneses are both originally from Lethridge, Alberta, Mark said he has also spent considerable time water skiing on Lake Blaine and Robyn has spent equal time snow skiing on Big Mountain.

“The more time we spend here the more we love it. The area is beautiful, the people are wonderful,” Mark said. “Now we are setting down permanent roots in Montana.”

While he said they enjoy their private space off of Big Mountain Road, they had been in the market for property boasting “zero ambient noise” — a luxury that is becoming increasingly rare in fast-expanding Northwest Montana. And they may find that on their new land, where Mark said a team is currently scouting out the most silent section of the tract on which they expect to build a large home.

As for other possible land uses, Mark said the family currently doesn’t plan on allowing large sections of it to be logged, though they will allow lumber operations to occur where necessary in order to maintain a healthy forest. They also do not wish to pursue any commercial ventures at this time.

On the topic of development, Mark said their ultimate goal for the holding is “quite the contrary.”

“Do we have opportunities to extract economics? Of course we do, but we aren’t taking them because we want to conserve the land and be good stewards,” Mark said. “We want to make sure it is managed and maintained properly.”

ASIDE FROM property owned by Southern Pines, and other lands owned by Stimson Lumber Company, FH Stoltze Land and Lumber and Green Diamond Resource Company, the Jones family now owns the largest piece of private property in the area.

That’s according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 1 Manager Jim Williams, who said he and others are currently “in encouraging conversations” with the Jones family on how to possibly maintain a level of public access on the property.

The area, along with other surrounding swaths, is a popular destination among hunters, anglers and recreationalists, many of whom have grown increasingly concerned over the future of public access in Northwest Montana in recent years. Although multiple timber companies have owned much of the valued property between Kalispell and Libby throughout the years, the entities historically have allowed the public to access it under Block Management agreements that are offered through FWP.

The program essentially encourages private landowners to enter into a voluntary agreement with the agency to keep some or all of their lands open for public use in exchange for enforcement and patrol services.

In Region 1, which encompasses Flathead County and other areas, 10 landowners enrolled a total of 710,000 acres for the 2020 hunting season, the vast majority of which was offered through agreements with timber companies.

It is the hope of Williams and many others that the Joneses will consider enrolling a portion of their acreage into the program. He said Mark first reached out to FWP several weeks ago to discuss the public-access opportunities.

“We are very fortunate up here that virtually every landowner that has purchased a piece of that former Weyerhaeuser land has been willing to enter into discussions about maintaining public access,” Williams said. “We think the families, including Mark and his family, recognize this valley’s culture and how important public access is to hunters and anglers.”

SINCE SOUTHERN Pine purchased the Weyerhaeuser acreage in late 2019, the company has since sold nearly 300,000 acres to Seattle-based Green Diamond Resource Company and has sold off smaller parcels here and there, particularly in Lincoln County. Southern Pine, doing business as SPP Montana, also has been collaborating with conservation organizations and state agencies in order to secure large conservation easements as well, though Williams said the recently sold 126,000 acres had not been on FWP’s radar for an easement possibility.

Regardless, Mark said his family are willing to consider a level of public access so long as guests prove they are able to treat the lands with respect.

“I know there is some anxiety coming from people who have used it [the land] in the past. I get it. We are committed to being good neighbors, but ongoing access to the property will be contingent on them being good neighbors, too,” Mark said. “I know 90% of sportsmen, hunters and fisherman are going to come on and be wonderful, but we can’t be everywhere all the time making sure they are. So we need those people to help make sure everyone is in compliance with the rules we and FWP come up with.”

Williams emphasized that through the Block Management program, professional game wardens will patrol the lands, helping to ensure the rules are followed. However, he did acknowledge the system is largely self-policing.

“People need to realize and respect that this is private land. We all need to follow the rules or we jeopardize public access. ” Williams said. “We can tell you things have been moving quickly and that Mark has been really easy to work with.”