By BECKY GILLETTE
Jim and Gina Poage like to describe their River Ranch Bed and Breakfast located on the Bouie River as “Luxury meets nature chic.” This unique property is about as different as you can get from a chain hotel. It is located on a 325-acre property with a mile of frontage on either side of the Bouie River. The property that is a working timber farm has miles of trails, white sandy beaches, and the feeling of a private nature retreat even though the property on River Road near Mac’s Fish Camp is only two miles from Interstate 59, and three miles from Highway 49.
“We are super convenient,” Gina said. “We feel like guests have the best of both worlds. They are close to Hattiesburg and the Long Leaf Trace (http://www.longleaftrace.org/), and when they come home from a busy day, we provide them a placid, private, luxurious place to relax and unwind. The main cabin is located right on the Bouie. You look out the back deck to the river. It is breathtaking.”
After River Ranch opened in 2010, it quickly became the No. 1 one lodging establishment in Hattiesburg on TripAdvisor, a traveler review website.
“Travelers want to get out of the same cookie cutter hotels,” She said. “Everything about River Ranch speaks quality. You are just drawn to it. The lodge is actually an authentic, hand-hewn log cabin, but it has every modern amenity you can imagine. The lodge is a work of art itself, with logs ranging from 14 to 24 inches in diameter.”
River Ranch has more privacy and amenities than the usual B&B located in someone’s home. Instead of a full breakfast, they offer guest a continental breakfast and use of a kitchen for breakfast or other meals. There are five in-room suites in the main lodge. Gina’s mother, Freda Galligan, 94, and Gina’s sister, Vicki Galligan, live in a separate cabin on the property, and Vicki operates River Ranch.
“My mother and sister are the heart and soul of River Ranch,” she said. “I’m more the backroom type person. My husband and I and our son, Rankin, 16, live in Southern California, where we have a B&B located near San Diego in a genuine California brick adobe house once owned by Bing Crosby. Lots of commercials are shot out there. Guests just love it. It is different, there is extreme privacy and they have so much space.”
Gina was born and raised in Laurel, and at one point was Laurel’s Miss Hospitality. Earlier in life, she had a film production company in Dallas and later in Los Angeles where she did some public relations work for Harley Davidson motorcycles.
“My dad taught me how to ride a motorcycle when I was six years old,” she said. “Doing the work with Harley opened up a lot of doors for me. After our son was born, I left film production to have more time for family.”
The couple has no difficulty renting out River Ranch. It is popular for individuals visiting, or the entire cabin can be rented out for family reunions, church events and weddings.
Gina said they were initially hesitant about going after the wedding market. It is an industry they had not been familiar with. But having met some wedding planners recently, they decided that is a market they would like to explore.
“Imagine having a wedding on a beach in Hattiesburg,” she said. “There is something about the water. You are just drawn to it.”
For advertising, they rely primarily on word of mouth.
“When guests experience River Ranch, they want to share it with other people,” she said. “That is basically how we are marketing ourselves.”
The Poages visit River Ranch frequently.
“We love the riding and walking the trails,” she said. “We have four wheelers. We have miles and miles of trails. Wildlife is everywhere. We have springs and winding creeks, a pond and sandy beaches. We get out there on our quads. We go mudding. We fish. We hike. We also have horses there. I used to compete riding cutting horses. My cutting horse retired and lives there along with a few other horses.”
Gina still refers to Mississippi as “home.”
“When talking about plans for spring break or Christmas, I say, ‘We are going home’,” she said. “We love it here in California. But going to Mississippi with our son continues to provide him with a healthy lifestyle. He can experience things at River Ranch that he can’t in California. He can just be a kid. He can do all these things you can’t do in California. There is so much more freedom. It is more Americana. Also, we are extremely conservative, proud believers in Jesus Christ. California is extremely liberal. Sometimes that is not exactly easy. That makes it sometime even more beautiful when we go home to Mississippi.”
River Ranch was the first “green” lodging facility in the Hattiesburg-Laurel area. Their fence along River Road was built from trees the farm lost in Hurricane Katrina. The cabin Gina’s mother and sister live in was also built from trees on the property lost during Katrina.
“We were implementing conservation practices long before it was the trend,’ she said.
Gina said they enjoy the reviews they get from guests.
“My favorite reviews are the handwritten ones from military families who have stayed with us just before being deployed, or who have just returned from active duty,” she said. “The emotion in the thank you notes written by these service-men and [service] women give new meaning to the word sacrifice. They share their hearts about how special River Ranch is and how they felt when they were here. It’s actually extremely rewarding, especially since our roots run deep with military history.”
One guest wrote in an online review: “River Ranch makes you forget the chaos that awaits you back home–truly a place for a family to rejuvenate!”
For more information, visit the website www.visitriverranch.com.