BY EMILY STIFLER

“I love it,” Ryan Hamilton, Big Sky
Town Center Project Manager, says
of his job. His work in this position
has taken him beyond development, and that’s both rewarding and
challenging.
Hamilton spearheaded building Big
Sky’s new hockey rink, created the
Big Sky Farmers Market (along with
co-worker Wendy Swenson), started
the Big Sky Skating and Hockey Association
with help from the Board
of Directors, and was instrumental
in implementing pedestrian crosswalks
on Ousel Falls Road and one on
Lone Mountain Trail. Currently, he’s
working with the Big Sky Community
Corporation, as well as several
home owners’ associations and
resorts, to consider creating a Big Sky
Parks and Recreation District.
Hamilton, 38, and a superfit father
of two, met his wife Jill when he was
still in high school outside of Cleveland,
Ohio. They were on the same
bike racing team, and Jill, originally
from Bozeman, was working as a
pastry chef in Ohio. The day after
he graduated high school, Hamilton
packed up his Datsun and drove to
Bozeman. He had a job at Bangtail
bike shop and an apartment both
waiting for him. That was 1990. He’s
been in Bozeman ever since. In his
time off, he hangs with his family
and rides bikes: “That’s my thing—
road and mountain biking.”
Hamilton graduated from MSU in ’95
with an Earth Science degree in Geography and GIS mapping. He’d worked
at bike shops from age 13 until his
first child was born in 1997. It was
time to try something else. He used
his GIS skills working for a mining
engineering company, but was laid
off after nine months. His next job,
starting in 1999, was for an engineering company with a project in Big Sky.
Hamilton worked to create maps for
the Big Sky Town Center master plan
to submit to the county. In 2000, the
Simkins—owners of the Town Center—hired Hamilton directly.
The Town Center team drafted its
own zoning, which went through an
advisory committee in Big Sky and
through the Gallatin County Planning and Zoning Commission for
approvals. Hamilton remembers when
the Commissioner called for public
comment for approvals, no one came
up. One Commissioner said: “We’re
building a whole town, here. There’s
nobody here to oppose it?” The
proposal passed. Over the years, there
have been over 50 public hearings for
various approvals and updates to the
Town Center’s plan.
“We could have done anything with
that land,” says Hamilton. “It’s fl at,
and it’s at the crossroads. We fi gured
the best thing we could do for the Big
Sky resort community was build a
downtown, because we thought Main
Street—shopping, hotels, dining and
a movie theater—was what Big Sky
really lacked.”
While designing the Town Center, they focused on pedestrians by
building sidewalks with boulevards,
narrower streets as a traffi c calming
measure, and a pedestrian connection
between the commercial core
and existing and future residential
neighborhoods. The development is
centered on a plaza on Town Center
Avenue, and a “linear park” from Ousel Falls Trail to the heart of the Town
Center’s downtown. The project is
about 20 percent complete.
“This is a ground-up project,” says
Hamilton. After 11 years, I’ve done
everything from digging holes in the
dirt to test for percolation for a drain
fi eld, to working with the engineers
to put in water sewer and roads, to
reviewing new buildings, to designing
and drafting the development
manual, to fl ooding the ice skating
rink at 4 a.m. Like the Simkins, my
heart and soul is in this, 100 percent.”
Hamilton works in Big Sky as needed.
Otherwise, he bike commutes from
his home near Peets Hill in Bozeman
to an upstairs offi ce at Simpkins-
Hallins Lumberyard in Northeast
Bozeman. Much of his work in
Big Sky is infl uenced by his home
neighborhood. Living next to Linley
Park and Bogert Park, he has ski trails,
recycling, concerts, the hockey rink
and the Farmers’ Market all nearby.
“If you took many of the businesses
and restaurants in Big Sky and put
them along one Main Street, we’d
have a thriving downtown. The
shoulder season would be shorter,
and our peak season would be better.
More people would come here as a
destination getaway. They’d go hiking, fi shing, rafting and skiing, and
they’d stay longer to shop, watch a
movie, go to a nice restaurant and stay
at a hotel.”
He says the connection between
Bozeman and Big Sky is strong. “In
the 70s when Big Sky was being
conceived, Bozeman was a cow town
with a college, and that was about
it. When Chet Huntley announced
plans for Big Sky, it got everybody
fi red up. If you could afford it,
you bought a condo… That was the
playground.” He says while now
there’s a lot to do in Bozeman, Big
Sky’s amenities—the Biggest Skiing
in America and great trails like Ousel
Falls—keeps the resort town popular
with locals and visitors alike.
The two economies are also connected:
“A lot of people with wealth
in Big Sky spend money in Bozeman,
and Big Sky is dependent on Bozeman
for the airport and the services.”
Development in Big Sky in the
early 2000s—including at the Town
Center—“put a lot of people from
both communities to work,” he adds.
Living in Bozeman and working in
Big Sky can be diffi cult. “It’s very
hard to manage something that’s 50
miles away. The simplest things take
forever. If I have to go check a measurement or see how the snowplowing
is doing, it’d be easy if it were
across the street. But…I need eyes
and ears in Big Sky.”
Hamilton’s focus now is on parks. His
employers, the Simkins, were partners in the land that sold for the Big
Sky Community Park at a discount.
They also donated $20,000 for the
Spur Road Trail. Recently, Hamilton
has attended the proposed Madison
Valley Parks and Recreation District
meetings, and now he’s working
with other groups in Big Sky to
remove Big Sky from that District.
He hopes Big Sky can have the opportunity to create its own district in
the future, which would help keep
park and recreation tax revenue in
the community.
He’d like to continue sharing the success
of the Town Center with the Big
Sky community. “The support that
the community has shown has made
the experience very rewarding…I
think people see that we’re doing
positive things in Big Sky.”