By Tyler Allen Explorebigsky.com Staff Writer

BIG SKY – The Big Sky Community Corp. has a full plate in 2013. The nonprofit is in charge of parks, trails and recreation in Big Sky, and this year it’s implementing a reusable bag fundraising program, expanding the Community Park and planning for several new trails.

The organization manages more than $3 million in assets, and donations often go directly toward programs, not the personnel needed to implement them.

“With an operating budget [of more than] $500,000, more staffing is a need, not a want,” said BSCC Executive Director Jessie Wiese, previously the nonprofit’s only full time paid employee.

Now, two new part time hires will help with the upcoming projects.

Emily O’Connor, hired as project coordinator on Jan. 14, splits her time between project management and administrative tasks. O’Connor moved to Big Sky in October 2012 and previously worked for the Lands and Urban Lot Management Program for the U.S. Forest Service, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

“BSCC fits really well with my background and goals,” said O’Connor, whose natural resource management experience includes encroachment resolution, boundary management, fuels reduction and watershed management. “Both [the Forest Service and BSCC] manage land and its associated uses for the benefit and enjoyment of the public.”

While she notes differences between working for a federal agency and a small nonprofit, O’Connor says she is “impressed by the number and scale of projects that BSCC accomplishes, as well as the support from the community.”

On March 7, BSCC announced its second new hire, communications specialist Katie Smith. A five-year resident of Big Sky, Smith is also the media and outreach coordinator for the Bozeman-based nonprofit, Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, and for the footwear company Asolo. She will complete a master’s degree in public relations from MSU-Billings this spring.

“I love how BSCC brings all the different facets of this community together, and I’m excited to help them get the word out about events, activities and trails,” Smith said. She wants the message to be clear: BSCC is a valuable resource for Big Sky.

In that vein, a creative new project with Bozeman Audi will help BSCC fundraise and promote sustainability in the community.

The car dealer recently donated 500 reusable, logoed shopping bags to BSCC, which the group plans to sell at local events and the farmer’s markets this summer, as well as at Big Sky businesses.

“We took a look at the use of plastic bags in the community,” Wiese said. “We found a lot of people are using plastic and asked, ‘What are the little things we can do to create less garbage?’ The idea is to keep this beautiful mountain community as low-impact as possible.”

A partner with BSCC since 2010, Bozeman Audi has donated to a number of its past projects including $10,000 for a bear-proof trash enclosure in the Community Park.

“We have a pretty strong environmental mission statement: ‘to enhance our surroundings through progressive conservation,’” said Columbine Culberg, Director of Community and Environmental Affairs for Bozeman Audi.

On the community park front, BSCC plans to add to and complement the major improvements it made last year.

The Rotary Club of Big Sky has committed funding to add more rock climbing in the park, creating a “boulder garden.” The existing boulder, built last summer, was funded entirely by the Rotary Club. The funds raised at the Rotary’s Jan. 26 gold auction, combined with an anonymous private donation, will provide $40,000-45,000 for two additional boulders, including a smaller kids boulder.

“The garden concept has been with BSCC for a long time,” said Rotary Club of Big Sky President Dr. Jeff Strickler. “We’re helping to fund the park as conceived by BSCC, and we’re glad to be able to do that.”

Stronghold Fabrication, which built the first boulder, presented a bid to the Rotary on Wednesday, March 6 as the Weekly went to press.

This year BSCC also plans to improve the landscaping around the new installations. Last summer native grasses were planted around the boulder and skate park, but there is still a need for pathways, benches for viewing the skate park, trees and more picnic tables around the boulder and basketball courts, Wiese said.

“We don’t want to have a piecemeal park. We want a long-term plan for a functioning park.” This plan includes hiring an architect for a proposal to add restrooms and running water near the softball fields, and eventually, a pavilion.

“We’ll be paying strictly out of pocket for the planning up front and then be asking the resort tax [board] for funding [in April],” Wiese said.

Also at the park, a new kiosk will have a map of the disc golf course. The kiosk, which will be installed at the base of the first hole, was constructed and donated by the Big Sky-based remodeling business, Millworks ’58.

BSCC is also working on a number of trail expansions, including a series of looping trails that will begin near Town Center. The plan is to connect this system to Ousel Falls. Wiese and O’Connor are currently working to obtain property easements for those trails, Wiese said.