An old homestead near Bigfork was transformed into The Nest on Swan River, a year-round retreat and event venue in a gorgeous setting

Story by Kay Bjork

On a quiet bend of the Swan River where tall grasses flutter and crystal-clear water flows flat and slow, wildlife finds refuge. But bears, beavers, muskrats, otters, deer, ospreys, owls, ducks and eagles are not the only ones who find safe haven here.

This beautiful and serene site is also home to The Nest on Swan River, an event and lodging venue where you might find a guest sitting quietly on a hidden deck perched along the river, a couple exchanging vows beneath a leafy canopy, a family awakening together to the sound of cheerful songbirds, or a group celebrating an important life event surrounded by meadows, mountains and water.

Pam and Mike Roessmann. Kay Bjork.

Just minutes from Bigfork, The Nest is a surprisingly secluded hideaway located on the site of a historic Swan River homestead originally used as a farm. In the 1980s, it became the setting for a quaint antique store and tearoom, and in the early 1990s, it was transformed into the Coyote Riverhouse, a restaurant and lodge operated by Gary Hastings for over 20 years. When neighbors Mike and Pam Roessmann walked across the road to enjoy dinner there one evening, they were enchanted with the charm of the riverside property.  The Coyote Riverhouse eventually closed, and the property was put up for sale.

The property seemed to be waiting for someone to write its next chapter, which intrigued the Roessmanns. But after decades of working hard as owners of various businesses, including Snow Country Construction and as co-owners of the Bigfork Dairy Queen, as well as building their own homes and raising three children, they decided to retire. So, in 2015 they set out to explore, travel, camp in the rain, hike and visit their two granddaughters. Then in 2017, however, the price dropped on the Coyote Riverhouse parcel, and the couple took the plunge to buy the property.

“It was a serendipitous thing,” Mike says.

They began renovations shortly afterwards to establish a year-round retreat and event venue, converting an empty nest to “The Nest” and their own free time to overtime. Mike completed all the renovations with help from Pam, using a method that Mike describes as farmer-style, working with what was at hand, when possible. They also worked farmer’s hours: long days, most every day.

There are still traces of the old homestead on the property, and the couple is committed to preserving the integrity of the historic property by blending the old into their renovations. Rooms were reconfigured and materials were reused and recreated.  When something came out in one place, it went back somewhere else, retaining the priceless qualities of objects that bear the mark of time.

“We were not trying to make wholesale changes,” Mike says. “A lot of people had a hand in what this property represents, and we want to keep the integrity but make it whole.”

As time passed, the changing seasons revealed more surprises and gifts, including the beauty of a winter wonderland reflected in the river, the fragrant, colorful and free-spirited flowers that popped out of the lawn, and the scrumptious apples in the historic orchard. These scenes also provide lovely backdrops for the major life events held here since opening, which have included weddings, graduations, baby showers, family reunions, fundraisers and a memorial celebration of life.

The entire campus can be rented for events, offering privacy and a homey atmosphere for any occasion. This spring, the Roessmanns will complete the renovation of a spacious area that will be an ideal site for workshops, intimate winter weddings and a variety of other events.

View from the Nest on Swan River. Mike Roessmann.

The property is designed to be multi-purpose with the ability to sleep 28, cabins with full kitchens, a five-bedroom inn, two commercial kitchens, and an outdoor pavilion and bar. In summer 2019, they opened The Perch, a riverside bar where boaters can paddle up for live music, signature drinks and artisan bread made by Blu and Rose Funk, famous for their many years operating a Bigfork restaurant. The Perch makes The Nest experience accessible to more people, which is important to the Roessmanns because sharing this special place is at the heart of their efforts.

Even though they enjoyed their earlier careers, they note that the logic during those years was to make money to provide for their family. Now it is more about the people. It has become a family project with their grown children helping with ideas, brochures, social media and housekeeping in the summer. Pam said it has also taken them full circle and brought friends and acquaintances back into their lives. After a lot of challenges and hard work, they are heartened by the responses of people who visit.

“Everyone says it is magical,” Pam says.

A lot of that magic emanates from the river. Mike says the stream has its own personality that changes moment to moment.

“It can be calm and serene and then roiled and angry,” he says. “There is constant change in the same environment.”

The natural environment can present both rewards and challenges at an outdoor venue. The couple shares the story of a wedding that began under the threat of dark and ominous clouds. The ceremony began, and suddenly, as if by cue, a shaft of light streamed directly onto the bride and groom. Then as the last guest disappeared into the tent for dinner and toasts, the clouds burst into torrential rain. Pam and Mike flew into action and gathered materials, covered up equipment, adjusted lights and moved the bar undercover. After the rescue mission, the weather let up and they mopped up just in time for the party to move outside to continue the celebration with live music and dancing. Indeed, it was all pretty magical. And it didn’t hurt to have a couple of magicians whose behind-the-scenes tricks were like a sleight of hand that saved the day.

For more information, visit www.thenestonswanriver.com.

Maquee photo: The Nest. Mike Roessmann.