Big Sky Medical Center opens
Culmination of 15 planning years ‘historic’
BIG SKY – More than 200 Big Sky residents and visitors crowded the atrium in the Bozeman Health Big Sky Medical Center on Dec. 9, 2015, for what Bozeman Health interim dyad CEO and president as well as its CFO Gordon Davidson called a “historic event.”
Visitors took guided tours through the 51,625-square-foot facility that includes a six-room emergency department; four-bed inpatient unit; primary care clinic; pharmacy; laboratory services; medevac landing pad; and imaging center with a new cutting-edge MRI scanner.
BSMC began accepting patients on Dec. 12.
The welcoming and ribbon-cutting ceremonies culminated a dream that took root during the center’s groundbreaking in May 2014, but one that was planted much earlier, according to Big Sky Resort President and General Manager Taylor Middleton, also the chair of BSMC’s board of managers.
“Sure, two years from moving dirt until this building opened [is] a spectacular timeframe,” Middleton told the crowd in the atrium, “but the board of directors for Bozeman Health has been working on this project for over 15 years.”
After years of planning, Bozeman Health – called Bozeman Deaconess at the time – opened a pharmacy in 2004 in Big Sky Meadow Village then in 2005 bought the land along Lone Mountain Trail where the medical center exists now.
Beginning in 2013, Big Sky community leaders held open forums to discuss options for a hospital in the area, inviting Bozeman Deaconess representatives as well as those from Billings Clinic to participate. A BSMC groundbreaking ceremony was held September 2013.
“This is a big deal,” Middleton said. “Within two years we were building a hospital right here in this place where cows, and for that matter, buffalo used to roam.”
Jason Smith, executive vice president of philanthropy at the nonprofit Bozeman Health Foundation, said that a combined pledge of $1 million has helped BSMC meet a fundraising challenge set by the Charles and Peggy Stephenson Family Foundation to match their $850,000 gift to provide for a high-quality MRI unit.
The Yellowstone Club, Yellowstone Club Community Foundation, Moonlight Basin and the Spanish Peaks Mountain Club joined forces to meet the challenge. A 1.5 Tesla MRI scanner was installed in Big Sky Medical Center on Oct. 23.
Dr. David Chen, BSMC’s chief medical officer, hired five physicians to work out of Big Sky’s facility, including Maren Dunn, D.O.; Mark Siemer, D.O.; Jeremy Mitchell, D.O.; Kirk Weber, M.D., FACEP. Philip A. Hess, M.D., serves as the center’s medical director.
TEDD/TIF talks continue despite delays
Effort receives state grant
The effort to bring Targeted Economic Development Districts to the Big Sky area inched forward in March 2015, but remained off the mark from an ambitious timeline set in fall 2014.
The project did, however, receive $26,250 in state funding that month in the form of Montana Department of Commerce Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund grants.
The original goal was to have two districts in place by the end of 2014, one in Gallatin County portion of Big Sky, one in the Madison County portion. But financing – along with the inherent complications of proposing two TEDDs in Big Sky – slowed progress.
Despite $25,000 in private funding and a $45,000 September 2014 reallocation of Big Sky Chamber of Commerce resort tax funds, the Big Sky TEDD Committee in early 2015 was short approximately $25,000 to pay for the project.
“We’ve had [some] internal timelines,” said Ryan Hamilton, a member of the TEDD committee, and also Big Sky Town Center’s Project Manager. Hamilton said that once the Dec. 31, 2014 timeline passed, “it became clear that we needed to do some more homework.”
A subcommittee of the Big Sky Chamber, the TEDD committee formed last July to explore the option of establishing two TEDDs – Big Sky straddles Gallatin and Madison counties – which could provide support for public infrastructure development.
The TEDD committee was one of seven grants awarded by the state commerce department, which allowed the committee to reach an estimated $95,000 financing goal.
The Big Sky Trust Fund money would help pay for attorney and consultant fees, mapping, a third-party economic impact study, and writing an infrastructure deficiency report to present to Gallatin and Madison county commissioners, among other project expenditures.
If Big Sky TEDDs are approved, both county commissions would appoint a board of directors to oversee the TEDD, said Hamilton, adding that community members can participate in the public process.
“I don’t think it ever goes to the ballot, but it’s not a new tax either,” he said. “We’ll have to make it a win, win, win, win for taxpayers, the community, the county and the state.”
Recycling leaves Big Sky
Big Sky’s only recycling center went away Nov. 2.
For more than five years, the recycling bins, which the Gallatin Solid Waste Management District provides and Four Corners Recycling services, lived on a 60-foot road right-of-way on Aspen Leaf Drive in Big Sky Town Center. The Simkins family – developers of Town Center – owns the land.
The location is designated for parking and isn’t a place where one expects to see recycling bins, according to Town Center Project Manager Ryan Hamilton, who also noted looming development pressure with residential units planned for the adjacent land.
“We knew upfront it wouldn’t be the final resting place,” Hamilton said. “It’s in a residential zone. It worked for all these years because it’s been around vacant land, but that land will be built on soon.”
Town Center initially set a deadline of October 2014 for the bins to be removed, but extended the date to Oct. 1 of this year with hopes that local interest groups would identify a new site. The deadline was then extended another month while community leaders and nonprofits scrambled to find a solution.
The Big Sky Natural Resource Council, which is a subcommittee of Big Sky Community Corp., works to provide sustainable solutions for natural resource issues in Big Sky. The group is still searching for a landowner to host the site, and working to help facilitate funding that might be needed for site improvement and management.
Jim Simon, district manager for the GSWMD, has met regularly with BSNRC and says they’ve been looking for alternatives for nearly two years without luck.
“We haven’t been able to get anyone to commit to hosting a site to move forward with a real development plan,” Simon said. “It’s unfortunate with the growth up there that there’s not a lot of options for us to move the site right now.”
A few options remain on the table, among them the possibility of curbside recycling, as well as a potential 1.4-acre land parcel owned by the Big Sky Water and Sewer District, which could be used as a recycling center site.
Big Sky’s first annual Pairsine
BIG SKY – The easy ambiance on the terrace at Big Sky Resort’s Peaks Restaurant didn’t suggest a battle was underway.
Wielding Shun knives and hot woks, and geared for a fight in chef coats and aprons, 10 southwest Montana culinary artists seared, flipped, rolled and stuffed specialty dishes for the Pairsine Fine Wine and Food Pairing Competition, the event to open the resort’s second annual, four-day Vine and Dine Festival.
More than 200 guests on Aug. 13 took in the sunset and the contemporary instrumentals of Montana Skies, while tasting delicacies from some of the region’s finest chefs as they paired dishes with wines from around the world. Attendees floated between 30 tables set up on the Peaks terrace, sampling food and wine pairings at their leisure.
The Pairsine, pronounced “pair-zeen,” is a signature event of Wine Country Network, a Denver, Colo.-based media and event company dedicated to all things vino, cuisine and travel. WCN has been holding pairsines since the inaugural 2004 event at the Denver International Wine Festival. The name derives from a combination of “pairing” and “cuisine,” and the spirit is in competition, according to WCN founder and CEO Christopher J. Davies.
“I tell people it’s Iron Chef meets wine,” said Davies, sipping from a glass of Brooks 2014 Rosé. “The hard part – the stress – for the chefs is that they don’t get wines until eight days before the event.”
At 8 p.m., Davies took the microphone to announce the three winners of the 2015 Pairsine competition. When the smoke cleared, Davies declared the “People’s Choice Award” would go to Chef Wilson Wieggel of Big Sky Resort’s Summit Hotel.
The judging panel chose the two final winners. Chef Eric Holup of the resort’s Huntley Lodge took home the “Best Chef” award for his dishes.
The “Most Creative” award went to Jake Irwin of Rainbow Ranch. First matching an oak cervena venison dish with a Pepper Bridge Winery Merlot, Irwin also paired el mar Mediterraneo trio Spanish pulpo with an Amavi Cellars Semillon.
“I feel great,” Irwin said after the Pairsine, adding that this was one of the biggest competitions he’s been in. “Being creative is part of being a good chef, and there were a lot of good chefs up there.”
After the event, Davies read judges’ comments and awarded LMR’s Steen honorary mention for his creations, which included a “bacon and eggs” dish with pork belly and egg yolk. “The master sommeliers really thought Nick was second place for most creative,” Davies said.
Big Sky PBR again wins top event
The entertainers behind the Big Sky Pro Bull Riders event again finished their season under the bright lights of the “Entertainment Capital of the World.”
On Oct. 26, the Big Sky PBR was honored as Event of the Year for the third consecutive year at Las Vegas’ Thomas and Mack Center during the PBR Built Ford Tough World Finals. And this year it was no easy feat.
Big Sky’s event was competing against the J.W. Hart Invitational in Decatur, Texas, that hosted a competition called “Unfinished Business.” Eight former riders from the past three decades came out of retirement to compete for a $160,000 purse on pay-per-view. But it wasn’t enough to unseat Big Sky’s main summer attraction.
“It’s really something special to beat out this event, it was really tough competition,” said Freestone Productions’ Jacey Watson, who produces the Big Sky PBR with her husband Andy, The Outlaw Partners, and Continental Construction. “It’s a hard thing to pull off every year and the community of Big Sky becomes a big part of that.”
In addition to the J.W. Hart Invitational, Big Sky’s signature summer party was up against approximately 150 other PBR-sanctioned events that include the Touring Pro Division and BlueDEF Velocity Tour stops – the Big Sky PBR was elevated to the BlueDEF series in this year’s inaugural season.
Thirty-five of the world’s best riders, many of whom competed in Big Sky on July 30 and 31, vote for the annual Event of the Year.
Sean Gleason, minted as PBR’s new CEO in June, says this award is an opportunity to honor the high production value of the PBR events outside the Built Ford Tough Series.
“[Event of the Year] is to acknowledge all the independent promoters that put in a lot of hard work into events that we can be proud of,” said Gleason, who attended the Big Sky PBR in 2014.
“I thought it was a phenomenal event – well run [and] well produced,” Gleason said. “And in that setting, it’s absolutely gorgeous. I think the riders see a lot of people in the stands and enjoy the community.”
Housing still problem in Big Sky
Bill thought to assist housing crisis dies in Senate
A group of state, regional and local entities hosted more than 100 community members at a town hall-style meeting in late October 2015 to address what many feel is the preeminent issue in Big Sky: affordable housing.
Held at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center, the group consisted of the Montana Department of Commerce, Big Sky Chamber of Commerce, Human Resources Development Council, and representatives from two Bozeman-based engineering firms.
Consultants recommended building 18 condos on a 4.14-acre parcel behind the Big Sky Community Park’s tennis courts. A state bill proposed earlier in the year might have helped.
The bill, proposed in the Montana Legislature, which some hoped could be a promising crutch for Big Sky’s growing housing crisis, died in April 2015 on the Senate floor.
House Bill 262, called “Revise resort tax laws,” would have allowed resort districts, resort areas, and resort area districts such as Big Sky, to raise resort taxes by up to 1 percent. Revenue collected from the additional tax increase would need to be earmarked for historical building preservation or workforce housing.
After the Senate Taxation Committee passed the bill on March 25, it moved on to the full Senate, which defeated it in a 25-25 tie. A majority vote is needed for bills to move through to the governor’s desk.
“It all came down to the timing of them stopping the vote,” said Kevin Germain, a member of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce Housing Subcommittee, which aims to find solutions to the area’s housing issues. “At one point it was up 27-23.”
Rep. Kerry White (R-Bozeman) first introduced HB 262 on Jan. 20, as a way to provide additional resort tax revenue that would preserve historical buildings in areas that collect resort tax. He later added “or workforce housing” to the bill, one of a number of amendments HB 262 has seen.
Germain said the bill received resounding support from Sens. Debby Barrett (R-Dillon) and Jedediah Hinkle (R-Bozeman), but that it wasn’t enough.
“They really stood up for Big Sky,” Germain said, adding that at this point supporters are seeking solutions. “We’re looking [for] opportunities to resurrect it and don’t know what they are.”
Nepali fundraiser nets $80,000 for earthquake relief, education
On June 14, one mountain community answered the call of distress from another mountain community, half a world away.
Nearly 250 people from Big Sky and Bozeman packed Lone Mountain Ranch’s lodge, saloon, and outdoor patio in support of the Nepali people. Two massive earthquakes on April 25 and May 12 devastated Nepal, killing nearly 9,000 people and injuring twice as many. Approximately 500,000 Nepalis were displaced from their homes, as the quakes destroyed entire villages.
Volunteers greeted attendees on the idyllic Sunday evening as they approached the century-old Big Sky guest ranch. Colorado musician Geoff Union picked traditional and contemporary bluegrass riffs on the outdoor patio, while people perused the silent-auction items indoors or gathered in small conversations in the saloon and on the shaded patio.
Before the night was over, nearly $80,000 was raised for the stricken country of Nepal.
The money raised was donated to Tsering’s Fund, a nonprofit formed in 2007 by Dr. Peter Schmieding, his wife Karen Fellerhoff, and their friend Tsering Dolkar Lama, a Tibetan woman who lives in Nepal’s capital Katmandu, and after whom the organization is named. Schmieding practices dentistry in Big Sky and Ennis, and flew to Nepal after the April 25 earthquake.
Tsering’s Fund was originally created to fund education for Nepali girls, but quickly shifted its fundraising efforts toward earthquake relief after the disaster.
LMR’s General Manager Paul Robertson; Dr. Schmieding; Outlaw Partners CEO Eric Ladd (publisher of this newspaper); Andy Holm from Bozeman’s Venture Church; the Rotary Club of Big Sky; and countless others were instrumental in organizing the event.
“To see the community come out in such a generous fashion to support people on the other side of the planet that they’ll never meet,” Schmieding said, “is a testament to the generosity of the American people.”
BSSD adopts broad academic program changes
Dec. 8, Big Sky School District School Board voted to adopt the International Baccalaureate program, a rigorous k-12 academic agenda recognized by universities around the world. Approval for the IB program followed a November community meeting where its proponents highlighted the program’s merits.
At the November meeting, BSSD administrators recommended the change in order to meet many of the objectives outlined in a strategic plan that is helping them shape the district’s future.
After presenting key components of the plan to a group of 40-plus parents, school board members, teachers and administrators at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center, the steering committee that drafted it answered questions and solicited input from those in attendance.
“[The International Baccalaureate] does pretty much what the Big Sky community wants,” said Skip Kotkins of the education-consulting firm Carney Sandoe and Associates, “It integrates academics, experiential international worldview, and 21st century skills – not just learning math times tables and learning how to spell, but critical thinking and problem solving.”
This fall, Kotkins extrapolated data from 731 survey responses and meetings with more than 150 Big Sky community members into a document the steering committee used to shape BSSD’s strategic plan. Big Sky principal Alex Ide said the district’s last such plan was drafted seven years ago, and to his knowledge had not been updated since.
Superintendant Dustin Shipman said an IB diploma could effectively replace the first year of college by granting its recipient college-level credits and admission into a second year honors program at Montana State University, for example.
Ultimately, the goal is to turn the plan into something with “action steps, outcomes, and accountability strands,” Shipman said.
The plan is available on BSSD’s website bssd72.org
New elementary school opens in Big Sky
Voters reject building reserve levy
BSSD opened its new k-4 Ophir Elementary School for the 2015-2016 school year on Sept. 5, 2015. The facility consists of 12 new classrooms, expandable to 16, a full gym, a satellite kitchen and library, space for administrative and counseling offices, and a new parking lot and playground.
In March 2015, Big Sky area taxpayers voted against a building reserve levy of $840,000 to finance completion of the new school, located just north of and contiguous to the current school campus along Highway 191.
The Gallatin County Election Office counted 660 ballots, 283 in favor of the levy and 377 against it; 47.5 percent of eligible voters participated.
A building reserve levy is used to complete the needs of a specified project, and funds are issued via Montana’s INTERCAP Loan Program, which offers short-term, low-interest loans to the state’s local governments, state agencies and universities.
While the levy didn’t pass, the new school opened for the 2015-16 school year – just not the way levy supporters had hoped.
BSSD requested the funds to pay for a number of items in the new k-4 building, such as furnishings and equipment; exterior landscaping; gymnasium furnishings and a laundry room; an outdoor playground classroom; and communication systems.
Costs for the new school were initially estimated at $10.2 million to acquire two parcels of land on Windy Pass Trail, as well as to design, build and equip a new complex to serve prekindergarten through fourth grade classes. Taxpayers approved the bond for that money in May 2013.
Unforeseen costs led to the proposed building reserve levy, and came to light during the design phase, which began in summer 2013 – immediately following approval of the bond – and was completed in early spring of 2014.
These expenditures resulted from poor soil conditions requiring geotechnical remediation and structural upgrades; radon mitigation; and more expansive site construction due to topography challenges, such as leveling the site with wet soil.
Big Horn volleyball notches historic 2015 season
The Lone Peak High School volleyball team nearly won its 11th straight match in October 2015 to secure a third seed in the District 8C tournament.
The Big Horns fell to White Sulphur Spring in Big Sky two matches to three, but still finished with the fifth-year program’s best regular season to date. The 12-4 Big Horns entered the District 8C tournament as the fourth seed in October to face off with No. 5 Gardiner at Manhattan Christian.
The Big Horns improved from an eighth seed last year, and early in the season it was obvious to LPHS Head Coach Sarah Griffiths that this team was destined to make their mark.
“We had a group of juniors playing together for their third [season] and the chemistry this year clicked,” Griffiths said on the eve of the tournament. “I am truly awestruck about this season so far.”
LPHS recorded a big win early on when they traveled to Shields Valley in September, and defeated the Rebels, a team they hadn’t previously beaten in school history, 3-2.
“That really opened [their] eyes as to what was possible, and that they could compete with these teams,” Griffiths said. They also beat three-time defending state champions Gardiner in late September, another boost to the Big Horn confidence. The team’s 2015 statistics compared to last year demonstrate their improvement.
LPHS increased their kills from 297 to 410; blocks improved from 36 to 44.5; they had 715 digs this season compared to 362 last year; and assists improved from 195 to 403. They also earned significant individual accolades in 2015.
At the District 8C Tournament in late October, LPHS lost to the Gardiner Bruins, the three-time defending state champions. The Lady Big Horns bounced back with a win against Shields Valley before losing their next match to White Sulphur Springs, ending the season at 13-6. But without any seniors on this team Griffiths says next year looks bright for LPHS volleyball.
“I think we’re going to have a great season [and] continue to impress people,” she said.
The Reserve at Moonlight Basin opens with ‘Golden’ drive
The long awaited front nine of Moonlight Basin’s private mountain-ringed, 8,000-yard golf course was celebrated in early August 2015 as one of the game’s legends, and also the course designer, ripped a perfect drive through a bluebird Montana sky.
Jack Nicklaus’ ceremonial first tee shot appeared destined to clear the Spanish Peaks and end up in Gallatin Valley before gravity took hold and it bounced onto the first hole’s fairway, 252 feet below the tee box.
“It was absolutely perfect,” said Mike Wilcynski of Nicklaus’ drive. The Reserve at Moonlight Basin’s director of club operations and membership, Wilcynski has been involved with the construction and development of the Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course since 2005.
The back nine holes of The Reserve opened in 2008, but the last decade’s economic downturn and subsequent bankruptcy of Moonlight Basin kept the front nine from opening to golfers until late July this year.
“I’m pretty proud of the fact that we’re all done with [the course],” Wilcynski said. “[The project] is pretty near and dear to my heart.”
Moonlight Basin in August also opened The Reserve’s clubhouse, a sprawling log structure at 6,600 square feet including the lower-level cart storage. On the morning of Aug. 6, a giant white tent stood west of the clubhouse where the Golf Channel’s Steve Sands moderated a member Q-and-A session with Nicklaus.
Nicklaus said he’d return to see how the course matures and possibly to ski when the course is covered in snow.
“[The last time] I skied was here about four years ago,” he said. “I took it up at age 35. I said I wasn’t going to take it up until after I was done with golf.”
Nicklaus retired from professional golf at age 65, and began his course-designing career in earnest.