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Making it in Big Sky: Big Sky Resort Area District

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In addition to our devoted Board of five Directors, the Big Sky Resort Area District has a paid staff of four: Daniel Bierschwale (Executive Director), Kristin Drain (Finance and Compliance Manager), Jenny Muscat (Operations Manager) and Sara Huger (Administrative Assistant). PHOTO COURTESY OF BSRAD

By Mira Brody EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – In 1998, the general electorate of the Big Sky Resort Area voted to create a district for local administration of Big Sky’s Resort Tax, which is applied to “luxury” goods as a means to fund community needs. Since then, it has initiated over $80 million in investments, playing a significant role in funding priority programs and projects throughout Big Sky.

Explore Big Sky spoke with BSRAD’s Executive Director, Daniel Bierschwale about how BSRAD has met the needs of Big Sky since its inception, and how it has adapted to a quickly-growing community. Bierschwale, who has always been passionate about serving the Greater Yellowstone region since he first visited in college, says he is fortunate to work with one of the most committed and talented crews in Big Sky.

The following responses have been edited for brevity.

Explore Big Sky: Let’s start with a little background information on you, when did you come to Big Sky? 

Daniel Bierschwale: My passion for Big Sky originated from working in Yellowstone National Park during a summer in college. As the son of a minister, my family moved frequently. As a result, I set out to put down roots in Greater Yellowstone and Montana, making it home in 2007 with a relocation to Big Sky in 2019.

EBS: When did you become involved with BSRAD?

D.B.: My involvement with Resort Tax dates back to my time in Gardiner and the Paradise Valley. During those years I played an active role in public/private partnerships including implementing the Resort Tax in Gardiner. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to apply this experience to my role with the Big Sky Resort Area District.

EBS: Tell me about the history of BSRAD: when did it start? 

D.B.: In 1992, the general electorate of the Big Sky Resort Area voted to adopt a Resort Tax to be charged on “luxury” goods and services not deemed “necessities of life.” In 1998, the general electorate of the Big Sky Resort Area voted to create a District for local administration of the Resort Tax. Resort Tax is collected and remitted by local businesses operating within the District. The locally elected Board of five volunteer Directors strategically invests funds to address critical community needs. 

EBS: How has it grown to address the needs in the Big Sky community?

D.B.: Our vision is that “Big Sky is BETTER TOGETHER as a result of wise investments, an engaged community, and the pursuit of excellence.” Since its inception, over $80 million in investments have played a significant role in funding priority programs and projects throughout Big Sky. Included in these investments are Health and Safety, Public Works, Recreation and Conservation, Economic Development, Arts and Education, and Housing. The community guided “Our Big Sky Vision and Strategy” has really helped serve as an overarching framework for ensuring we are making the right investments.

EBS: How big is your team?

D.B.: I like to think we have one of the most committed and talented crews in Big Sky. In addition to our devoted Board of five Directors, we have a small paid staff of four that consists of myself (Executive Director), Kristin Drain (Finance and Compliance Manager), Jenny Muscat (Operations Manager) and Sara Huger (Administrative Assistant). We are always thrilled to share our efforts with the community and give anyone and overview of our operation (located above Grizzly Outfitters).

EBS: Tell me about the different services you provide to the community?

D.B.: Our operation consists of two umbrellas including Compliance (collection of the tax) and Investment (using the tax). That said we truly do adapt to meet community need and support as a convening entity at times. For example, last year many of you saw us distributing and collecting COVID-19 tests for Big Sky’s testing program. More recent examples include supporting the Community Vision and Strategy Implementation Team, supporting the Post Office in Federal discussions to address demand, and engaging to get the TIGER grant to the finish line.

EBS: What is your favorite experience working for BSRAD?

D.B.: It really doesn’t get much better than seeing community initiatives come to fruition. Knowing public dollars have been used to bring the vision of our community into reality brings us joy. For example, we have all been watching the work on BASE and are excited for it to open.

EBS: Is there anything else that I should know or that you want to tell the Big Sky Community about BSRAD and the work you do?

D.B.: BSRAD has two strategic partnership initiatives underway. Over the past six months a subcommittee with representation from Madison and Gallatin Counties and BSRAD has been underway to open communication and planning for jointly funded initiatives. Similarly, we have been working closely with our community foundations to seek alignment with funding priorities. It’s very exciting to see both initiatives take shape and ultimately ensure we are collectively addressing community need.

EBS: What is the best business advice you have ever received?

D.B.: Partnership is a handshake not a handout.

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