By Michael Somerby EBS LOCAL EDITOR
BIG SKY – On June 25, approximately 150 representatives from the more-than 450 active business members of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce gathered in the Sapphire Ballroom of the newly opened Wilson Hotel for the 22nd annual Black Diamond Business Awards.
The dinner and recognitions are meant to honor the achievements of local businesses and individuals that not only embody the best values of the Big Sky community but also inspire and propel new avenues of growth and positive change through their own accomplishments.
The Chamber presented five awards over the evening: “Emerging Entrepreneur,” “Nonprofit Person of the Year,” “Business Person of the Year,” “Business of the Year;” and the “Chet Huntley Lifetime Achievement Award.”
Twenty-one-year Big Sky locals Kara and Ben Blodgett were awarded the “Emerging Entrepreneur” distinction for their outstanding business, The Rocks Tasting Room and Liquor Store. Caitlin Quisenberry, programming and events manager at the Chamber, presented the award to the couple.
“This year’s winner has managed to keep their doors open and thriving through peak and shoulder seasons, greeting our locals and guests with charm and hospitality,” Quisenberry said.
Explore Big Sky reported earlier this year on the troubles of maintaining business through the grinding feast-famine cycle of peak and shoulder seasons, so the Blodgett’s ability to earn a reputation for consistency at any time of year is remarkable.
“I’m just so grateful,” Kara told EBS. “It’s such a wonderful community to be a part of. I’m grateful and honored.”
Ciara Wolfe, CEO of the Big Sky Community Organization, pocketed the “Nonprofit Person of the Year” award, a recognition she earned through her tireless efforts to maintain the standing achievements of the BSCO, but also for her efforts in spearheading the most ambitious fundraising campaign effort ever rolled out by the organization.
The Big Sky Community Organization is raising $17.5 million for the construction of the town’s first ever community center, a space intended to bring Big Sky residents of all walks together in a shared space.
“I was the one being recognized, but I was really accepting the award on behalf of the work of everyone involved with the BSCO, from the partners, to the donors and volunteers,” Wolfe told EBS. “I’m honored but the whole army behind the BSCO makes our work possible.”
The “Business Person of the Year” award went to Tim Kent, branch president of First Security Bank in Big Sky Town Center. Kent has been instrumental in the completion of several crucial projects around town, most notably the subsidized Meadowview housing developments that are geared to make living in Big Sky a reality for members of a workforce that has, in recent history, been forced to commute from other Gallatin County communities.
Big Sky Town Center and members of the Simkins family were presented with the “Business of the Year” award. The Simkins’ commitment to the community has been realized through countless projects and initiatives over the years, most recently the sale of the 3.3-acre plot of land that will be home to the BSCO’s community center and the new Town Center Plaza adjacent to The Wilson Hotel.
Big Sky Town Center’s role in facilitating foot traffic for the growing business hub as well as creating spaces for Big Sky organizations to offer new and lasting activities for community engagement and togetherness was also key in this recognition.
The “Chet Huntley Lifetime Achievement Award,” the crown jewel of the awards offered by the chamber, was presented to Loren Bough.
Bough’s community involvement and dedication over the years are numerous, such as generous financial donations and support for community spaces like the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center, the Big Sky Medical Center and Lone Peak High School, and his role on several notable boards including the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation, Friends of Big Sky Education, Big Sky resort tax board and his current position as third-term chair of the Big Sky School District Board.
Kevin Germain, chairperson for the Big Sky resort tax board and Big Sky Chamber Board Member, spoke to the significance of Bough’s contributions to the town.
“Loren, and his wife, Jill, are committed and dedicated community members. The Boughs have focused on making Big Sky a world-class community by focusing on education, the environment and the arts. He cares deeply about this community.”
Following the awards portion of the evening, the Black Diamond Awards Dinner keynote speaker Cam Sholly, superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, addressed attendees as to the current priorities for the park, which, like parks across the nation, is experiencing tremendous upticks in visitation.
“I don’t take quite the alarmist’s viewpoint—at least not yet,” Sholly said. “Traffic moving through a road corridor, which covers one percent of Yellowstone’s 2.2 million acres, is not nose diving the condition of the resources … That said, there are more visitors here than ever. We need to take it seriously and have an organized approach to how we manage visitors today, and what that might look like tomorrow.”
His words were of particular interest to a community that is also experiencing increases in tourism and pressures from the accompanying infrastructural needs, such as those associated with telecommunications.
The chamber also announced reelects and recent appointments to their board of directors.
Names included Scott Johnson, chair; David O’Connor, past chair; Katie Grice, vice chair; Ken Lancey, treasurer; Shannon Sears, secretary; and board members Frank Acito, Sarah Gaither, Kevin Germain, Greg Lisk, Joel Nickel and Bill Simkins.