By Tucker Harris EBS STAFF
BIG SKY — The key to responsible growth in Big Sky and the greater Montana landscape is collaboration and community engagement, according to panelists of the 14th Big Sky Virtual Town Hall hosted by Explore Big Sky. The town hall on Sept. 14 featured five guest speakers who provided perspectives on how Big Sky can continue to grow responsibly and sustainably.
Panelists included Charles Drimal, waters program coordinator for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Jordan Vana, a managing director for the Montana Land Reliance, Bayard Dominick, Vice President of Planning and Development at Lone Mountain Land Company, Chet Work, executive director of the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, and Danny Bierschwale, executive director of the Big Sky Resort Area District.
Charles Drimal of GYC began the evening, focusing on river conservation efforts which keep Montana wild and scenic. He highlighted the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act which would protect 17 river segments across the greater Yellowstone ecosystem and the Smith River System for a total of 336 river miles.
The GYC garners support from all: “When it comes to protecting these amazing river resources that we have, we’ve found time and again that people are really united about it regardless what industry they work in, regardless of what part of the state they live in,” stated Drimal. He continued to state that Montana’s free-flowing, clean rivers bring the community together and are what drive those who live here to grow sustainably so that these spaces can remain clean and wild.
Chet Work spoke next about GVLT’s efforts to connect communities with the open lands. Work pointed out the significance of trails to our community in addition to the rivers: “Charles suggested that rivers brought Montana together, and I would argue as well that trails are a pretty critical element to bringing our community together.”
When it comes to growth, he believes that growing closer to town and avoiding sprawl will be what works best in order to retain habitat and agriculture conservation. “I think that there’s such an embrace from this community around recreation, scenery and agriculture, and that there’s a pretty good embrace of where we shouldn’t be growing as well.”
Bayard Dominick from LMLC provided his perspective on responsible development in three categories: environmental sustainability, economic sustainability, and social sustainability. He too noted the importance of connections and working together in the path to sustainable growth, pointing to the new BASE community center that is being developed right now and the need for more employees to live in Big Sky as opposed to commuting year-round, “an important part of creating a sustainable community.”
“The Town Center is a big part of creating a community center where people will be coming and hanging out and feeling like they want to be a part of it, not just living in a bedroom and commuting up here to work,” said Dominick.
Up next, Jordan Vana, one of the managing director’s at MLR spoke on the desire for Montanans to conserve their land. “It’s a real testament to landowners who, for a variety of reasons, are seeing conservation as a very good choice for their land for their families and for their futures,” he said. MLR helps private landowners permanently conserve the special wide-open spaces for generations to come. “[The choice to conserve] really does start with love of land and wanting to leave it better than you found it,” Vana said.
The Executive Director at BSRAD, Danny Bierschwale, closed out the evening explaining the strategic investments that Big Sky’s tax dollars go towards. As with all panelists, he believes, “the power of partnership and collaboration can really bring a community together to address multiple needs.” He believes responsible growth starts with transparent, collaborative efforts by all community members.
All panelists voiced their belief that it will take collaboration and partnerships in the community in order for Big Sky to grow responsibly and sustainably. Drimal summed it up well: “I love the open space, I love the public land access, and I also am committed as a member of this community—like all of you—to come up with sustainable solutions, be part of the conversation, and help support the planning … It’s going to take us working together to bring vision into action in these communities”