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Five decades of the Big Sky Owners Association

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By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER 

Monday was a special day in local history, as the Big Sky Owners Association celebrated 50 years since becoming the first formal governmental body in Big Sky on Oct. 24, 1972.  

“It’s a pretty significant milestone,” said Eric Ossorio, board director. “The BSOA has been one of the building blocks of Big Sky and led the way for many of those 50 years.” 

Ossorio has lived in Big Sky since the early 1990s and believes that despite Big Sky’s recent emphasis on year-round community building, there has always been a Big Sky community. For a long time, he said, the BSOA played a key part in making that possible.  

On Oct. 4, 1972, Montana Secretary of State Frank Murray’s signature recognized the BSOA as a nonprofit corporation with “a perpetual existence, unless dissolved in accordance with the laws of the State of Montana…To manage, operate, and maintain that area of Gallatin and Madison Counties, State of Montana, which is located in the West Fork area of the West Gallatin River that is more specifically described as the Big Sky of Montana, Inc. Resort…” 

The first board members were chairman Chet Huntley, treasurer Ernest L. Larson and secretary J. David Penwell, documents show. In those early days, Huntley had many visions which came to life after his untimely passing. A thriving Meadow Village and a ski destination were the focus but, Ossorio explained, one part of his vision did not come to fruition: 

Based on European style from Zermatt, Huntley designed a cog railway to bring folks from the residential Meadow Village up to a pedestrian-access Mountain Village base, via the present day “poop chute”—the sewage fallout line between the Meadow Village and Lone Mountain.  

The early board never officially filed that plan, and it was abandoned during a bankruptcy after Huntley’s death in 1974. Boyne Resorts purchased the resort and much of the surrounding land, and the funicular transport system was never built. 

Chet Huntley was the founding chairman of the Big Sky Owners Association and laid out early plans for the resort and town of Big Sky. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE BIG SKY OWNERS ASSOCIATION

That’s a story told by Ossorio, who is known for his wealth of historical knowledge among the BSOA, according to Executive Director Suzan Phillips Scott. A timeline on their website shows some of the milestones the BSOA reached in the last 50 years:  

In 1987, Crail Ranch was added to the National Register of Historic Places and the BSOA took charge of restoration and preservation.  

In 1988, they dedicated $5,000 to research the possibility of a resort tax district. In 1992, voters in Big Sky approved a 3% resort tax, which first went into effect that June.  

In 1990, they worked with the forest service to secure a trail easement which would guarantee permanent public access to Beehive Basin.  

In 2000, the BSOA helped secure a land donation to make the Ousel Falls trail public. Four years later, it was the most popular trail in Gallatin County, according to a timeline provided by the BSOA.  

The BSOA operated the Big Sky community post office until 2001.  

In 2010, the BSOA transferred management of local parks and trails to the Big Sky Community Corporation. This allowed the BSCC (now the Big Sky Community Organization) to focus exclusively further on expanding parks and recreation opportunities previously managed by the BSOA.   

Between 2001-2010, Ossorio said the BSOA stepped back from community leadership as other organizations including Big Sky Resort Area District and BSCO stepped up. Recently, the BSOA has found opportunities to deepen their community involvement in Big Sky through sustainability.    

“I think the sustainability committee is one of the newest efforts to re-energize the relevance of the BSOA,” Ossorio said.  

Little Coyote Pond construction

One effort of the sustainability committee, Scott explained, is the Little Coyote Pond project that will add a new outlet for public recreation while improving river habitat. The BSOA purchased the pond from Boyne Resorts in the early 1990s. 

“The ponds have silted in, and we’ve been trying to restore them for some time,” Scott said. “This time around, the board approved moving forward with construction to take Little Coyote Pond off the West Fork [Gallatin River], as it impedes spawning and fish passage. [Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks] truly supports this project, as it’s beneficial to the fisheries in the pond and the West Fork.” 

The pond was originally designed to catch construction sediment from upstream. Currently, the West Fork Gallatin flows into the pond and out toward the Gallatin. After construction, the river will circumvent the pond.  

The new community pond is designed to support the new Water Resource Recovery Facility. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE BIG SKY OWNERS ASSOCIATION

The BSOA is working with the Big Sky County Water and Sewer District, FWP, the Gallatin River Task Force, BSCO and adjacent property owners, Scott said. Construction efforts will include dredging the current pond, adding community fishing access with docks and a beach, building a trail around the pond, and adding a picnic area.  

A quiet celebration 

Half a century after Chet Huntley first set wheels in motion to create Big Sky Resort, BSOA members are proud to share its history. But as far as champagne and streamers go, the Big Sky community may be surprised to learn that the BSOA is sticking to a casual bi-centennial celebration. 

“Unfortunately, it’s been a little prohibitive in terms of celebration because we’ve been doing Zoom meetings for two and a half years,” Ossorio lamented. “Covid has had a pretty significant impact on everyone’s sense of participation. We’re all very happy that we’ve existed for fifty years, but I don’t think there’s any big celebration planned.”  

EBS acknowledges the native peoples who depended on the lands of Big Sky around the Gallatin Valley (widely recognized as the Valley of Flowers by various tribes) for thousands of years before modern development. Archeological evidence shows the Mountain Shoshone people including the Tukudika traveled the lands of Big Sky among other stewards of the land—namely the Nez Perce, Crow, Cheyenne, Blackfeet, Assiniboine, Cree, Salish, Sioux and Kootenai tribes, according to Montana State University’s Department of Native American Studies—who lived on this land and depended on trade routes across the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. 

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