By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER
The people of Big Sky showed up for transportation and highway safety upgrades, a water conservation conversation, a forum with county election candidates, the future of local postal service and a parade of Big Horn pride.
For five days, beginning on Oct. 3, Community Week opened these topics for public discussion, with various sessions attended by an average of between 60 and 100 people, according to the Big Sky Resort Area District. The week was sponsored by the BSRAD and the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce, and events were mixed between in person and virtual. Sessions were recorded for ongoing community access.
“[The chamber and BSRAD] both work on these big ideas of building community but from our own angles, so it was a nice opportunity to bring our expertise and our contact lists together,” said Caitlin Quisenberry, vice president of operations and events at the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce.
“For year one, it was a success,” she added, on the collaboration and one-week structure. “People showed up, we got our ducks in a row.”
Quisenberry plans to contact local homeowners associations next year to encourage part-time residents to join, as much of the programming was virtual and relevant.
“I think that there was a lot of programming,” said Daniel Bierschwale, executive director of BSRAD. “As we look towards what we do next year, we’ll be very intentional to eliminate any overlap in programming and how we’re using our time.”
He added that he understands the many reasons why folks could not attend sessions, but he hopes they watch the recordings and get up to speed.
Next year, he said, BSRAD and the chamber will likely shift focus to the topics which they didn’t have time to cover this year, including child care and Big Sky’s workforce, and not hold quite as many panel discussions.
BSRAD will host “Slice of Community Week” at Beehive Basin Brewery from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 17, giving out free pizza and Community Week fact sheets. Bierschwale said all are welcome, and he looks to continue the challenging conversations from community week in a casual setting.
Big Sky: “A world-class transportation destination”
That’s the goal of Darren Brugmann, executive director of the Big Sky Transportation District.
At the virtual transportation discussion on Thursday, Oct. 6, Brugmann spoke to the importance of Skyline Bus Service. Executing an existing plan for the $10.3 million TIGER grant awarded to Gallatin County in 2018, four additional commuter buses are expected to carry commuters to and from Bozeman as early as winter 2023/24. Skyline is currently upgrading their website and hopes to finish in November before resuming regular bus service for the winter season on Nov. 21. Brugmann wants to see more frequent bus routes to increase Skyline’s positive impact on the community.
Although no timeline has been provided, the transportation district also plans to launch a fare-free micro transit pilot program. Similar to Uber, riders would schedule a pickup and drop-off within some limited range of the Meadow Village.
Beyond public transit, the TIGER grant is also designated for a series of upgrades on Lone Mountain Trail. The improvements include left-turn lanes onto Big Sky Resort Road, Andesite Road, Big Pine Drive and Huntley Drive, a pedestrian tunnel and a stoplight to regulate entry and exit traffic at the Meadow Village end of Little Coyote Road, and bus pullout space along U.S. Highway 191.
“It will be a lot of work,” said Danielle Scharf, Bozeman region manager for Sanderson Stewart, the civil engineering firm working on the project. “It is going to be a fairly painful summer in terms of traffic control, but the good news is that it will be mostly done in one year.”
Highway 191 faces needs that consistently outpace funding, according to Mitch Buthod, statewide urban planner with the Montana Department of Transportation. The recommended improvements to the road between Bozeman and West Yellowstone would cost $350 million.
The biggest problem in Big Sky right now
According to James Rose, hydrogeologist from the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, community members should focus on water.
In the virtual water supply discussion held on Tuesday, Oct. 4, Rose presented an ongoing study showing that unusual bedrock creates fragmented groundwater aquifers that rely primarily on snowmelt to recharge each year.
Combined with a semi-arid climate and fast population growth, residents can expect increased discussion about local water access and regulating both residential and commercial water use.
Jim Muscat, water superintendent at the Big Sky County Water and Sewer District, said a transition from landscape to xeriscape, which would decrease the amount of water used for irrigation, might lay in the community’s future.
“How big can we grow?” he asked, weighing population growth against a finite water supply. “The true limiting factor is probably going to be Mother Nature, and how much [water] there is.”
Other discussion topics included Gallatin River conservation and widespread upgrades to sewage networks in the Gallatin Canyon. Big Sky’s new Water Resource Recovery Facility is still under construction but will include the canyon corridor.
From county candidates to the Montana Supreme Court
Fifteen candidates for office positions in Gallatin and Madison County assembled at Buck’s T4 Lodge on the evening of Monday, Oct. 3, to meet local voters and share their goals. Two incumbents running for the Montana Supreme Court, Ingrid Gustafson and Jim Rice, also joined the candidates in Big Sky, as they look to engage with the entire Montana voting population.
“If there was one that I would loved to see more people at, it [was] the voter education,” Bierschwale said as he reflected on the week. “Primarily because democracy does not work if the electorate does not choose to educate themselves about the issues at hand and the candidates that are representing their values.”
He said this applies to local governance as well, including organizations like BSRAD and the Water and Sewer District, of which many conducted unopposed board elections in the spring.
Again, Bierschwale encouraged community members to watch the recording before Election Day.
Post office set to close, and Madison County voting
On Wednesday morning, elected officials from Gallatin and Madison County and the Big Sky Resort Area District met in the Wilson Hotel for their bi-annual summit to collaborate on local issues. After opening proceedings, Big Sky Post Office contract manager Al Malinowski took the podium.
“Gallatin Partners has made the decision that the time has come to provide the United States Postal Service with notice that we intend to terminate the contract with the post office in Big Sky,” Malinowski said. “It seems to be the remaining tool we have in the toolbox to try and get what this community deserves as a post office.”
Malinowski emphasized that after 21 years of contract postal service, the Big Sky Post Office has outgrown its facility and its lack of federal employees and status. He said he believes that Big Sky has one of the larger contract stations anywhere, at least in Montana.
He prompted the community to consider whether it was time to become a federally operated postal operation, and whether it was time to include the adjacent canyon into the Big Sky’s postal service.
“We have the danger of becoming a community where we replace our tram more frequently than we replace and upgrade our post office,” he said.
The postal service contract will remain intact until the end of February. By then, Malinowski hopes to find a solution.
After the discussion on postal service, Madison County Commissioner John Heckler spoke about his ongoing effort to bring a polling station to the Big Sky portion of Madison County. Although his goal was for the upcoming Nov. 8 general election, he promised, “there will be a polling station for voters in Madison County in Big Sky by the next federal election. It just takes time.”
Heckler asked the audience if anyone had suggestions for a polling location, and Fire Chief Greg Megaard offered the Big Sky Fire Station 2––near Big Sky Resort––as a voting space.
Gallatin County Commissioner Zach Brown sent a note to BSRAD and thanked the community for the most productive joint county commission meeting he’d yet been a part of.
Homecoming: The biggest pep rally in history
On Wednesday evening, before Thursday and Friday’s homecoming volleyball, soccer and football games, the Big Horn community came together for a parade in Town Center and a pep rally hosted by Athletic Director John Hannahs and boys soccer coach Jeremy Harder. Hannahs declared it “the biggest pep rally in history.”
Lone Peak High School Volleyball was the only team to bring home a win, but all teams competed in front of supportive crowds at home. A high-scoring football game brought a nail-biting conclusion to a long week full of challenges and opportunities for the Big Sky community.