By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – Sayler Tatom cares about Big Sky, which means she cares about snow, plants and the environment. Originally from Dallas, Tatom moved to Big Sky at about 10 years of age and graduated from Lone Peak High School in 2017.

This summer, she was hired as an intern by Montana Land Reliance and Gallatin River Task Force in order to begin development on a sustainability plan for Big Sky.

“I think my most influential years were here,” said the 19-year-old. “[Coming] from Dallas—which is nicknamed the Concrete City—it’s hard not to appreciate it. You just have all of this beautiful space.”

While Tatom is currently enrolled in the environmental engineering and dance programs at the University of Alabama and will begin her sophomore year this August, she returned to Big Sky this summer in order to help the community reduce its environmental profile.

“It’s different for every community,” she said, citing some of the biggest challenges for Big Sky as energy and transportation, water and conservation, and waste and recycling.

“If Big Sky is going to compete [as a destination], sustainability is important. … Tourists want to know that where they are staying cares about the environment,” she added. “Our economy is based on nature. You look around Big Sky and you don’t see a problem, but if we don’t look at it now, we’ll have a problem in 30 years.”

By researching other resort communities, such as Vail or Aspen, Tatom is developing potential sustainability models that could be used here.

“Without a plan, it’s really hard for the entire community to do. I think our biggest issue is that Big Sky is unincorporated. … For us, we’re just banking on the good will of people,” she said, comparing Big Sky’s unique situation with other communities that have local governments that can regulate the use of plastic bags or require businesses to recycle.

According to Tatom, it might be a worthy goal for Big Sky to seek certification as a Mountain IDEAL Sustainable Destination.

This new accreditation is offered by Sustainable Travel International and this July, Vail became the first accredited destination in the world. Criteria includes appropriate tourism management and monitoring, destination planning, community engagement, and smart use of environmental resources.

“I think it’s an exciting thing for Big Sky to get on that track because in 10 years, we could be on that list,” Tatom said.

While Tatom will complete her work and return to Alabama on Aug. 16, MLR and GRTF will continue what Tatom started.

“We’re going to be looking really hard at working with our community to get a Mountain IDEAL Sustainable Destination for Big Sky. It creates a vision for the community,” said Jessie Wiese, the southwest manager for MLR.

Moving forward, Wiese said they will look at developing a governance council that can then seek funding and develop a communications campaign. “We feel that with this framework, we can really start to move forward,” she said.

Visit sustainabletravel.org/mountain-destination-standard to learn more about the Mountain IDEAL Sustainable Destination certification.