By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor
BIG SKY – The goal is to have 30 new wayfinding signs up around the Big Sky community by next ski season.
The project, led by the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce and Ryan Hamilton, also aims to install new lighting at the intersection of Lone Mountain Trail and Highway 191, and an entryway monument in the next two years.
The Chamber recently passed two milestones in this quest.
First, the Big Sky Resort Tax Board funded $225,000 toward the projects on June 13. $150,000 of that will go toward the wayfinding signage and $60,000 to the lighting project. Another $15,000 will go toward preliminary work for the entryway monument.
And second, on June 21, the Gallatin County Planning and Zoning Commission voted in favor of a zone text amendment to the Big Sky Zoning Regulations that would allow for such signage to exist. Within the next couple of weeks the County Commissioners will have another hearing finalizing approval of the text amendment.
Hamilton and County staff had rewritten the proposed text amendment several times and were relieved to have overwhelming support for this iteration at the meeting.
“If you want to talk about a zoning district like Big Sky, having a sign at the entrance is going to benefit the entire district,” Commission Chairman Steve White said. “It’s a very unique amendment.”
Addressing the planning department’s questions, White made findings that the project will promote scenic beauty and public safety, encourage growth, enhance the resort experience, and preserve and protect property values.
The Chamber’s overall plan has been complicated by the fact that the signs will sit not only along county roadways, but also on federal, state and private right of ways.
Next up: “We still have to apply for final approval for the signs,” said Hamilton, who has already been working on the project for two years.
This means Hamilton, with architects and engineers from CTA signs, will apply to Gallatin and Madison counties and to the Montana Department of Transportation for approval of the proposed signs, including size, design, content and location.
The DOT has strict safety specifications for sign materials and construction.
“When you put a sign in the DOT right of way, there are certain parameters that all parties involved need to agree on,” Hamilton said. The Chamber, he said, is leading this project and will thus be assuming responsibility for installing, insuring and maintaining the signs.
Currently, the Chamber is sticking with the plan to use the black diamond, blue square and green circle themes to denote destinations at the mountain, canyon and meadow, respectively. The plan to use steel and wood has changed to overlaying a graphic that looks like steel and wood atop the DOT’s regulation materials.
The signs will be a community asset, owned and maintained by the Chamber, Hamilton said. They’ll also be designed to minimize maintenance.
“We have substantial services and attractions to offer,” Chamber president David O’Connor said. “Many of those people are on a vacation, looking to do cool things. One of the most basic fundamental things [we can do is] tell them those things are here when they’re driving by.”
Hamilton has held a series of public meetings with individuals and businesses about all of these projects, taking comments about the design, placement, wording and other details.
The project will be in line with the Chamber’s new branding campaign, O’Connor said. “This is not a billboard program, we’re not looking to alter the pristine experience.”
Hamilton is also working with CTA to get permits for the lighting. The lights, probably six of them in all, will line Lone Mountain Trail at the turnoff.
“We want that Spur Road to be a subtle path,” O’Connor said. “Because so many people come at night, it would identify that as a turning place into the community.”
Once the Chamber chooses a light pole and fixture style, Hamilton will put it out for public comment.
The light poles will serve a double purpose in branding the community by holding banners for event promotion and community branding messages.
The Chamber is still in preliminary planning for the entryway monument project.
“We spend so much time and effort, collectively and individually, to bring people to this community and to tell the Big Sky story,” O’Connor said. “We need to illustrate to people that they’ve gotten here.”
“I shudder to think of how many people pass by the intersection that have no clue there’s anything up there.”
The double-sided monument, which will be a maximum of 35 feet tall by 90 feet long, would sit perpendicular to Highway 191.
Hamilton has been talking to Conoco owner Renae Schumacher about putting it on the strip of lawn just west of the Conoco sign, which is also more than 30 feet tall. Some of the $15,000 in resort tax funding will pay an attorney to help draft an easement, and the rest would go to design.
“This project in particular needs to have buy-in by the community,” Hamilton said. He plans to hold additional public meetings during the design process.
As well, he says, it’s going to be a significant community effort. In addition to asking for resort tax funding, the Chamber will ask contractors, masons, landscapers, irrigators and others to help out as much as they can.
“It’s going to be one of those barn raising projects, as I see it,” Hamilton said. “Let’s show our community pride by coming together to build a community asset like this.”