If you missed Glacier Country’s “in person” Town Hall meeting to offer input on tourism and its impact on individuals and businesses in Glacier County earlier this month, you have another chance to participate. Glacier Country is hosting a virtual meeting on Friday, Nov. 19, from 2-4 p.m.

(See registration information below.)

Approximately a dozen local stakeholders from Cut Bank, Browning, Babb areas attended the Nov. 5 meeting, which was facilitated by Glacier Country’s President Racene Friede, Cathy Ritter of Better Destinations and Jim McCaul of MMGY Next Factor.

The trio questioned and then listened for the better part of two hours while business owners, community members and representatives of the medical, agriculture and tourism-related industries shared their input on the positive and challenging impacts of tourism.

Friede offered a quick history of Glacier Country’s origin and mission and how the latter has evolved. Five years ago, Glacier Country shifted its focus to marketing “things to do outside Glacier National Park” and increasing awareness of available activities in attractions in the eight counties it serves: Flathead, Glacier, Lincoln, Mineral, Missoula, Ravalli and Sanders.

Glacier Country is once again shifting its focus–this time to “engaging and stewarding communities, with the goal of providing more livable, desirable and sustainable destinations” within the region.

Unlike the other seven county meetings they held prior to coming to Glacier County, those attending voiced they would like to see more visitors to Glacier County and stated they would welcome more residents moving into their communities.

Kim Stoltz, who along with her husband, Louis, own the Cut Bank Creek Brewery, explained how vital tourism is to their business, especially in the summer months when most of the locals venture out-of-town. “Tourism is crucial,” expressed Stoltz, adding, “the potential is here” to attract more tourists.

Chrissy Grimm, who owns Glacier Property Management with her husband, Aaron, concurred. They own Airbnb properties in Cut Bank. The success of those short-term and nightly rentals has allowed their business to reinvest in Cut Bank, she shared.

A message conveyed by many participants was echoed from the recent Reimagining Rural sessions held in Cut Bank. “We need to focus on what we are, not what we were…we need to change our narrative,” was a message repeated throughout the forum.

Ashley and Nate Kavanagh, owners of the Rose Petal, were among the business owners in attendance. Ashley spoke to the “positivity” tourists provide to locals when they express how “lucky we are” and how “excited” they are to explore the community and surrounding area.

Ritter shared she was the recipient of Cut Bank hospitality earlier that morning when she lost a crown and the Lowery-Haemig Dental Office got her right in after a quick call from Ashley. Ritter was impressed by the kindness shown them by everyone they came in contact with during their overnight stay in Cut Bank.

During the meeting, Rachel Kipp pointed to the numerous and little known points of interest and attractions–referring to them as “lots of small gems”–in and around Cut Bank.

Cherie Taylor of Logan Health-Cut Bank offered proof that tourism attracts professional and those professionals may decide to stay and call Cut Bank home. She used the example of local family physician, Dr. Hank Clay who came to visit Glacier National Park, heard there was an opening at the hospital, and over the next several months, made the decision to relocate.

When it comes to the “ideal visitor” Grimm stated there are actually two different types: the tourist who is on vacation and the business traveler who is ready and willing to spend more money.

Sanford Stone, who owns and operates Park Cabins in Babb with his wife, Claire, expressed his business is seasonal in nature and currently, this is no “slow” time for them. A concern he had was that local workers can’t afford the limited housing options available in Babb and the need to have essential services available all year round for those who live there full-time.

While the Babb/St. Mary area of the county is driven by tourism all summer long, Cut Bank is not, but it could be with a shift in marketing. “We’re maybe not the pretty part of the state–but we’re close,” reminded Nate.

Kim Winchell, Cut Bank Mayor-Elect, was excited to explore options on growing and attracting tourism to the area. She is also interested in educating those newcomers on how to recreate responsibly and be good neighbors and stewards of the land.

KeShawna Yazzie from Glacier Peaks Casino and Hotel in Browning discussed some of the cultural attractions available on the Blackfeet Reservation, such as buffalo tours, hunting and fishing with Native American guides, and educating tourists on the history and culture of the Blackfeet people.

Stone and Stoltz stressed the importance of a “cross-county” collaboration between Cut Bank and Browning and the east and west ends of the county. The need for more and better signage of local and area attractions was also discussed as well as the need for more hotels and possibly a convention center.

Friede invited those at the meeting to encourage other stakeholders and community residents to participate in the virtual session on Nov. 19. “We can’t do this without you,” said Friede. 

Glacier Country’s goal is to develop a stewardship plan that will be “an action plan for 10 years. We will be looking at how to turn challenges into opportunities, how to maximize growth to our economy, how to protect our way of life and the lands we love and how to strengthen our communities for generations to come.

To register and participate in Friday’s meeting, go to https://mmgyglobal.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJYkduGsqD0tH9B-VFoGR9xxq_uI5ZaiFNP6

For more  local news, pick up a copy of this week’s issue or subscribe to the Cut Bank Pioneer Press,  Shelby Promoter, Browning Glacier Reporter and The Valierian newspapers at http://www.cutbankpioneerpress.com/site/services/

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