By Bay Stephens EBS Staff Writer
BIG SKY – The board of the Big Sky Community Organization, the local nonprofit responsible for building and maintaining much of Big Sky’s growing trail and park systems, recently approved a strategic plan that included short- and long-term goals for the next five years.
The BSCO board approved the plan, which also discussed hiring a program director, obtaining a steady revenue stream and improving programming, at its Jan. 17 meeting. The board drafted an early version of the strategic plan in February 2018 and shared it with community leaders to ask for input prior to adoption. The board received some advice.
“Make sure you stay focused,” said BSCO Executive Director Ciara Wolfe of the feedback she’d read. “Don’t go too broad to where you can’t do what you’re doing well.”
Feedback had also encouraged BSCO to not emphasize marketing, but to continue doing the work they do—such as project completion and program development—all of which will organically build the organization’s reputation.
“The other advice that I heard that I took very seriously was, ‘Make sure you don’t slip,’” Wolfe said.
Community members had commended BSCO on the quality and breadth of their work and urged them to safeguard what the organization had worked to build over the past several years. After three years of extraordinary growth, Wolfe said the organization will need to slow down in order to dial in and integrate existing systems, programs and assets before taking on more growth.
From 2015-2018, BSCO more than doubled its revenue, expenses, users and servicing, according to Wolfe. Assets, parkland and trail mileage have also grown each of the past three years while the organization has recorded a 30 percent growth in trail users and an 18 percent growth in parkland users between 2017 and 2018.
Looking ahead, Wolfe said, the organization’s strategic plan focuses on continuing to encourage volunteerism, pursuing strategic partnerships with other Big Sky organizations, as well as expanding the trail system in key areas and developing a dependable revenue model through a mix of program fees, public revenue from resort tax funding, and annual fundraising and endowment programs.
BSCO Board Director Warren Cook pointed to the importance of volunteers as BSCO grows in the way of paid staff.
“It’s really a balancing act because we really do need to maintain that community volunteer ethic as we grow and as our budget gets bigger because we don’t want everybody to just say, ‘Well, leave it to paid hands.’”
During the Jan. 17 meeting, the board also discussed program development and the potential hiring of a program director. According to board members, this role would help build needed structure for existing programs, better support volunteers and allow BSCO to step into the many programming opportunities being requested by the public.
The organization already runs a summer camp for kids, softball league and free guided summer hikes, while coordinating trail ambassadors and running a trail maintenance program, all of which rely heavily on volunteers. Yet BSCO is hearing requests for programs such as a volleyball league and more, Wolfe said.
Much of the organization’s efforts lately have focused on fundraising to realize a community center in the Big Sky Town Center Park. BSCO purchased the 3.27-acre parcel in the heart of Town Center on Dec. 21, thanks to financial support from Len Hill Charitable Trust and in-kind support of the Simkins family as well as 15 additional donors, according to the BSCO website.
The organization will go public with the project and construction timeline once it has reached specific fundraising goals, Wolfe said.