Get away while giving back to foster children at stunning Hill Country glamping spot

By: Kristin Finan
April, 2021

They were only a few dates into their relationship when Jim Madigan decided to pose a serious question to his girlfriend, Dawn: What do you want to do with your life?

Her answer was simple: “I don’t know. I just want to help people.”

“I thought, ‘You cute, naïve little thing. That’s so heartwarming.’ I was infatuated with that,” Jim Madigan recalls. “When you’ve got that kind of sincere desire, it shows a lot of goodness and a lot of potential. We hit it off.”

Fast forward past a couple decades of marriage, two now-grown children and a successful career – he’s a highly respected luxury home builder, she has a passion and keen eye for interior decorating – and Dawn Madigan posed a question back to her husband.

They had so much love to give, and helping children in foster care was close to both of their hearts. Because their children Cole, now 25, and Chloe, now 19, were grown, should they, she asked, become foster parents?

He countered with an idea that fit both of their passions perfectly. Why not build something completely beautiful and unique, unlike anything they’d ever created together before, on their 16-acre Spicewood property, rent it out to guests and give a portion from every rental to nonprofits that support children in foster care?

And so, FireSong Ranch was born.

To walk through the sprawling and elaborately appointed 800-square-foot glamping tent, named NDotto after an orphaned elephant the Madigans foster in South Africa, is to experience a type of “rustic luxury” that almost seems unreal in the heart of Texas. (Ndotto literally means “to dream” in Swahili.)

From the sprawling deck that overlooks a babbling creek to the private hot tub to the kitchen that includes a dishwasher, refrigerator, microwave and high-end coffee maker, no detail, or amenity, was spared. There’s no TV, by design, but there is a record player and a collection of albums.

To be honest, to stay here is not really glamping; it’s glamping 2.0. Thanks to the tent’s stellar online ratings for the past two years, including during the pandemic when people found solace in this safe, close-to-home retreat, and in part due to Spicewood’s growing offerings that include breweries, wineries, distilleries, restaurants and waterfront recreation, NDotto is typically booked at least two months out. The tent rents for $450 a night and has a two-night minimum, with 10 to 15 percent of all proceeds from the property, which is only available to adults 25 and up, going back to local foster care nonprofits. “The goal is to keep increasing that,” the Madigans said.

“It’s just been a huge home run,” Dawn Madigan said. “We’ve always felt like since we’ve been here that this property has a bigger purpose than us.”

Dawn Madigan said the most affirming part of running FireSong Ranch is reading the guestbook comments.

“Our goal is just to have a place where people can restore and regroup … and at the same time, while they’re doing that, they’re actually giving to others. What a win-win for everyone,” Dawn Madigan said. “When they do find out our story, you wouldn’t believe the (stories from) adoptive moms or the people who were thinking of fostering. … It just gives me chills.”

In the future, the Madigans, who also rent out a casita at FireSong Ranch that benefits foster children, hope to open another rental property on 3.5 acres of their nearby land where 100 percent of the proceeds will go to charities related to foster care.

“We couldn’t figure out anything better to do with the rest of our lives. This is it,” Jim Madigan joked, adding that when it comes to Austin’s foster care community, “it’s been very, very fruitful meeting people and hearing the stories of what they’re doing. It’s a great community and it really, really helps to feel good about something that’s really so disheartening and traumatic.”

He added that this project has brought even greater depth to his relationship with his wife.

“My favorite saying is, ‘If you’re not standing on the edge, you’re taking up too much room,’” he said. “But she goes, ‘Back up just a hair.’”

“He’s a big risk taker,” Dawn Madigan added. “But if there’s no risk, there’s no reward.”

With FireSong Ranch, they’ve struck an ideal balance.

“There are certain things that are in your wheelhouse, (so we thought) let’s stick with some of the things we do well and offer support to those in the trenches,” Jim Madigan said.

“It’s been such a perfect fit,” Dawn Madigan said, adding that, after all these years together, she and her husband continue to “make a good team.”

“At the end of the day,” she said, “you feel good that you’re doing your part.”

If You Go

Getting there:

FireSong Ranch is located in Spicewood, Texas, about 30 minutes from downtown Austin. 


The NDotto tent is $450 a night with a two-night minimum. 

Insider Tip:

A portion from every stay at both NDotto and FireSong’s casita benefits foster care-related charities.


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