BIG SKY—As an unincorporated town, Big Sky lacks the formal local government that many other towns are able to look to for support and guidance during this current era of pandemic and overall strife.
On Monday, March 30, Outlaw Partners (the publisher of Explore Big Sky) launched the Big Sky Virtual Town Hall series, a weekly online forum featuring panelists of diverse backgrounds and involvements throughout the community. In the inaugural installment panelists fielded questions from both Outlaw Partners publisher Eric Ladd and Explore Big Sky’s Editor-in-Chief Joseph T. O’Connor as well as online audience members.
“We’re trying to create a semblance of a communication channel that spans all the different community leaders,” Ladd said.
The virtual town halls will take place every Monday evening at 5 p.m. for the foreseeable future on two platforms: Facebook Live and Zoom. For the time being, the governing theme of the discussions will be COVID-19 and how various pockets of the Big Sky community and surrounding areas are reacting to the global crisis and its local ramifications.
Ladd said that while Outlaw Partners has always adopted the role of facilitating communication within the community, the current pandemic’s dynamic nature presented an immediate opportunity to provide more COVID-19 coverage, a need articulated in Outlaw Partner’s recent community survey.
The inaugural town hall reached an audience of over 5,300 in Big Sky and beyond. Panelists at the March 30 meeting included Bozeman Health Big Sky Medical Center Director of Clinical Services and Operations Taylor Rose, health care industry venture capitalist Gary Rieschel, CEO of Visit Big Sky and Big Sky Chamber of Commerce Candace Carr Strauss, Big Sky School District Board Chair and Yellowstone Club Community Foundation Vice Chair Loren Bough, gubernatorial candidate and small business owner Whitney Williams and Kevin Germain and Daniel Bierschwale of the Big Sky Resort Area District board.
Bough, Germain and Bierschwale shared the initial success of launching Big Sky Relief, an effort fueled by a collection of community funds that gathers community partners for biweekly meetings to discuss community needs as well as ongoing efforts to fulfill those needs. “We’re stronger together,” Bough said in praise of the various local collaborative efforts that are addressing issues instigated by the rapidly evolving COVID-19 virus.
Carr Strauss echoed the positivity, asking Big Sky to stay strong and utilize the chamber as a “conduit to the experts.” The CEO also responded to questions about tourism promotion, to which she responded that Visit Big Sky’s tourism campaign has shifted to a “visit big sky later” message.
Zooming out to a regional perspective, Williams shared observations from the campaign trail. “I think this crisis has really unearthed a lot of challenges and a lot of inequities in the state that needed tending to before, and certainly do now,” she said, later bringing attention back to issues previously mentioned by other panelists such as broadband and cellular access.
Imparting perhaps the broadest perspective, Rieschel, a founding partner of Qiming Venture Partners in China and a part-time Big Sky homeowner, posed concerns about the possibility of the reemergence of the virus around September, the beginning of the second shoulder season in Big Sky. “Unfortunately, this is not something where you have a quick solution,” he said. Based on his observations in China, Rieschel said it is too early to say that the United States is anywhere near flattening the curve. He advised small businesses to ask themselves and others “What’s the right way to plan your way through this?”
Rose, who will provide a BHBSMC update at the next town hall, expressed uncertainty as to Big Sky’s location on the virus’ trajectory, but for now, he said that BHBSMC is confident in their ability to address the current situation.
The next virtual town hall will begin at 5 p.m. on Monday, April 6. Joining Rose, Taylor Middleton will speak on behalf of Big Sky Resort, Ania Bulis from Women in Action will discuss mental health, Martha Johnson from Big Sky Real Estate will share insight from the current real estate landscape in Big Sky and from Simms, Vice President of Operations Ben Christensen will be discussing the fly fishing company’s shift to producing PPE gear.
The presentation will be available once again on both Explore Big Sky’s Facebook Live as well as Zoom. Everyone is encouraged to tune in and submit questions.