”Yellowstone’s Hellroaring Fire came down from Cooke City,” he says, “and stopped within eight miles of the cabin.”
In 1996, another big fire season in Montana and the year that People Magazine named Jack one of America’s “Most Beautiful People,” he discovered the Flathead Valley.
“I was here doing some stuff in a fire camp when I drove by Flathead Lake,” he says, “ and I thought it was the prettiest place in the world.”
It took him eight years to find his special spot...a few miles outside of Bigfork. Not uncharacteristically, it turned out to be a steep bit of ground that his realtor thought impossible.
“He said to me, ‘You can’t build on a hillside,’ but we got out and walked down the hill, and I said. ‘I’m going to make a stupid offer.’ It was the best investment I ever made,” he says. “We had to mortgage something to afford it, but the home we’ve built here is awesome.”
Designed to accommodate the slope, Jack’s abode offers spectacular views of sky and water, and it’s where the 60-year-old, Tennessee-born, son-of-a realtor wants to retire some day. According to Jack’s assistant, Kate Oliphint, the family spends as much time in Montana as Ohio, where Jack still works as Director Emeritus for the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
The rest of the time, he’s traveling. On the day of our interview, he’s headed to Las Vegas to pitch a new television program: “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild.” Oliphint describes it as “modern update on ‘Animal Adventures’,” Jack’s syndicated TV series (1993-2004).