After a year-and-a-half of discussion, members of the Alexander family, who founded Cataloochee Ranch in 1933, sold the ranch to a newly formed company, Cataloochee Ranch Resort, LLC, owned by Ron and Camelia Ray and David and Annie Colquitt.

The new owners, who acquired Cataloochee Ranch March 30, said they intend to “preserve and enhance” the beloved Haywood County mountain retreat, which was founded by Tom and Judy Alexander in 1933. The name Cataloochee Ranch will be maintained.

The ranch has been operated by second- and third-generation Alexander family members since its founding.

Emphasis on preservation, upgrades

Plans are for the ranch to be closed for six to nine months, and maybe more, for renovations and capital improvements.

Cataloochee Ranch, with its theme “Hospitality a Mile High,” is known for its rustic ranch style, mountain vistas, hiking, horseback riding, family-style management, open air cookouts and lively music events. Its history is long and steeped in mountain tradition and family management.

“Cataloochee Ranch is a wonderful resort destination,” David Colquitt said. “We want to enhance the experience, so it can realize its full potential — enjoyed by locals and visitors, alike.”

In the new ownership, both couples understand the historical heritage of Cataloochee Ranch and are committed to preserving its natural beauty, while enhancing the guest experience.

Renovations will start with the main ranch house kitchen and dining area, but will also include updates to guest cabins.

“We want to preserve the beauty and history of this very special place,” Ron Ray said. “We also want to make additional investments in the facilities and operations to ensure that people will be able to enjoy Cataloochee Ranch for the next 50 years.”

“The kitchen needs work first,” David Colquitt said. “The goal is to produce the kind of food and dining experience that guests want.”

Mixed emotions

Selling the ranch required much discussion for the Alexander descendants, who made the ranch into a destination.

“It was time,” said Alice Aumen, daughter of Tom and Judy Alexander. “It’s with a twinge of nostalgia that the ranch is sold. You are bound to have mixed emotions for the place where you grew up. But this is a wonderful opportunity for the ranch — and I welcome it.”

Aumen said she is impressed with the new owners’ plans and what they want to do with the ranch.

“Everything the Rays and Colquitts have done, they have done it well,” Aumen said.

The family took a long time to come to the decision to sell.

“Several options were put out there in regard to the future of the ranch rather than to sell,” said Mary Coker, granddaughter of the founders.

While Coker is unhappy the ranch is no longer in family hands, she said, “I continue to love Cataloochee Ranch — and it continues to be, and will always be, a special place for me.”

The Rays

Ron and Camelia Ray are no strangers to Haywood County. They maintain homes in Maggie Valley and Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

Ron Ray is the former CEO of The Ray Group International (RGI), former U.S. Army officer and recipient of the U.S. Army Medal of Honor, Vietnam War. He served as Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs under President George H.W. Bush.

He and Camelia have lived adjacent to the ranch since 2013, and spend roughly half their time in North Carolina. Ron began visiting the ranch decades ago, when his children were young and he has known the Alexander family since then.

“We are all committed to investing capital to restore and improve Cataloochee Ranch,” Camelia said. “Our priorities will be to renovate the ranch house, dining room and kitchen, while updating the cabin interiors. We want guests to be wowed by the facilities, food and service.”

The Colquitts

The Colquitts, of Knoxville, Tennessee, have owned The Swag since April 2018, and spend as much time as possible at the renowned mountaintop inn in Waynesville.

The new Cataloochee Ranch Resort, LLC is a separate entity from The Swag in Waynesville.

“Cataloochee Ranch and The Swag will be operated independently and we, along with the Rays, will hire an experienced general manager to oversee operations at the ranch and deliver an amazing guest experience,” David Colquitt said.

The Colquitts have a long-standing fondness for the mountains of Haywood County, having honeymooned at The Swag in 2011.

“From our time honeymooning at The Swag, when we hiked up onto Hemphill Bald, which is actually a part of Cataloochee Ranch, we have been blown away by the beauty of the land,” Annie Colquitt said. “When we heard that there might be a possibility that Cataloochee Ranch could be sold, we were eager to work with Ron and Camelia to preserve and enhance this amazing place with an amazing heritage.”

“Cataloochee Ranch serves a wider clientele,” David said. “It’s a dude ranch, by nature. The goal is to elevate the ranch facilities to justify its rate and, with parking ease and good access, to attract more weddings, corporate retreats and groups.”

Being part of the ranch ownership appeals to the Colquitts, who have an abundance of hikers as Swag guests.

“We want to make sure Hemphill Bald hiking continues and that no ownership of the ranch disrupts the flow of mountain hiking from The Swag,” David Colquitt said. “We have a vested interest in making sure the area’s environment is maintained.”

Cataloochee Ranch continues

Cataloochee Ranch will be closed during renovation. A decision about keeping the ranch’s horseback riding open is pending. Since the ranch encompasses more than 700 acres bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, through hiking will still be enjoyed.

Renovations on the ranch will be done by Schick Construction of Maggie Valley.

Editor’s note: See the timeline of the Cataloochee Ranch history at www.themountaineer.com

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