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Big Sky parks and trails districts renew interlocal agreement

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A group of hikers enjoy the Uplands trail in 2020. PHOTO COURTESY OF BIG SKY COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION

By Gabrielle Gasser ASSOCIATE EDITOR

BIG SKY – Ten years after its initial creation, an updated interlocal agreement extended the lifespan of the joint Big Sky parks and trails district board last month.

The agreement links the Gallatin County Big Sky Meadow Trails, Recreation and Parks Special District and the Madison County Big Sky Mountain, Trails, Recreation and Parks District under one board. Now renewed, the two parks and trails districts can continue creating and maintaining parks, trails and other recreation opportunities in the Big Sky area under unified governance. 

The two districts, along with both county commissions, worked for almost a year on the new agreement which was signed on April 12 this year. Originally founded in February of 2012, the districts were formed to prevent a portion of Big Sky from being included in a proposed parks district in Madison County so Big Sky’s recreational resources could be managed by the community itself.

“The ILA is what binds us together and empowers our board to function,” said parks district joint board Vice Chair Steve Johnson. “So staying in business is important and it was critical that we get that renewed.”

The lengthy process to create this new agreement included review and approval of the document by both counties. A new stipulation in the updated agreement adds an automatic renewal at the end of another 10-year period, expediting the process in the future.

“We’ve got a better document than existed for the first 10 years, so it was likely well worth the wait,” said parks district joint board Chair Al Malinowski.

The five-member board is comprised of two representatives from each county and one joint member who can live in either county. The board has primarily worked to provide commentary on any new developments in the Big Sky community in either Madison or Gallatin County.  

Johnson said the board has largely operated in the background so far but sees its role in maintaining and expanding essential community resources growing in the future.

“I think it would be difficult to find somebody in our community who doesn’t utilize something under that [parks and trails] umbrella that’s been fortunately preserved in our community,” Malinowski said.

Two years ago, the joint board expanded the boundary of the district to include most of the canyon Two years ago, the joint board expanded the boundary of the district to include most of the canyon portion of Big Sky, adding about 800 more properties extending south to include Ophir Schools and Lone Peak High School. The new boundary, according to the expansion resolution, matches that of the Big Sky Resort Area District.

“We’re looking for ways to be more visible and make sure that the community knows: one that we exist and two what we’re working on,” Malinowski said.

At the May 11 resort tax board meeting, Malinowski raised the question during the public comment period of the best way to maintain trails and recreational assets in Big Sky moving forward.

Right now, the Big Sky Community Organization does the bulk of the parks and trails operations and maintenance, according to Malinowski, as well as staffing and providing programming at the BASE community center. Each year, BSCO applies to resort tax for funds to support these efforts but at the meeting, Malinowski said he sees an opportunity for the parks and trails board to partner with BSCO and potentially generate revenue outside of resort tax requests to help maintain parks and trails in the community.

Johnson suggested that revenue could come in the form of a property tax assessment, a possibility that was allowed for in the original ILA written 10 years ago. Though the district was originally formed as a non-taxing entity, the district’s founders built in the capacity for the district to implement an assessment, an allowance that had future community changes and growth in mind. 

Malinowski said at the May 11 meeting that the joint parks and trails board intends to engage with the Big Sky community and open up further conversation with both BSRAD and BSCO about different funding options. 

Moving forward, the joint parks and trails board will look into a variety of different possibilities that could help it maintain the valuable community assets that are Big Sky’s recreational resources.

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