From a walking path next to a buffalo pasture to a planetarium dome to view the night sky, the Montana Department of Commerce has awarded almost $300,000 in grant money to promote tourism in nine Eastern Montana hamlets.
“This funding will support communities across Eastern Montana in their ongoing work to strengthen local economies and create job opportunities in part by planning for sustainable tourism growth,” said Commerce director Tara Rice in a press release.
The money is the second wave of investment part of the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development’s $1.3 million investment to support the region’s goals in “creating vibrant communities where families want to live,” according to an agency press release.
The grants include $50,000 to the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes to build an eight-mile walking path along the eastern side of its 15,000-acre bison pasture. The route has been dubbed the Baha Tata’ga Omaskaska Buffalo Trail Prayer Path.
Tribal chairman Floyd Azure said in the press release that the path would serve “as an economic anchor and focal point for the millions of visitors who travel through Northeast Montana each summer.”
Robert Magnan, director of the tribes’ Fish and Game department, said the tribe plans to build three trails, breaking ground on the first one in mid-April if the weather cooperates. The first one-mile trail would be wheelchair accessible. Later, a 2.5-mile and seven-mile path would be built. Each trail would include interpretive displays.
The trails will be located on the southern end of the tribes’ cultural buffalo herd pasture, or about six miles north of Highway 2 and five miles west of Poplar.
Another $38,000 was awarded to the Carter County Geological Society for its Ekalakatic Dome, a snap-together planetarium to be assembled atop the deck at the Ekalaka museum.
Last year the museum took an inflatable planetarium provided by the Museum of the Rockies on a tour to regional communities, according to Sabre Moore, Carter County museum director.
“It was amazing how excited eastern schools were to host and have their kids come to it,” she said.
As the museum’s only full-time employee, however, it was hard for Moore to continue traveling. So she pitched the idea of purchasing an Intergalactic Dome Kit. The 20-foot wide fiberglass reinforced plastic dome boasts a 50-year lifespan.
Moore said the dome will allow the museum to project night sky and inner earth shows, as well as create its own curriculum.
“It will be a good beginning for astro tourism in Eastern Montana,” she added.
The planetarium will dovetail nicely with the proposal to promote stargazing at nearby Medicine Rocks State Park and Brush Lake State Park farther north, part of a stargazing trail that could be marketed.
The grants are the result of the state trying to spark interest in Eastern Montana as tourism has grown to about 12.4 million people annually, according to research conducted for the state. As noted in the study, however, Eastern Montana has seen a decline in hotel tax collections over the past few years despite a 24% growth in visitation to the state between 2008 and 2018.
So finding creative ways to snag travelers’ attention and make them turn off the highway to explore Eastern Montana’s small towns and their attractions is key. Other grant awards include:
• $25,000 to the Plenty Doors Community Development Corporation to develop new content for a brochure to promote 2020 summer events like the Little Big Horn Battle Re-enactment, Crow Native Days and Crow Fair.
• $25,000 for marketing and promotion of Cheyenne Victory Days, such as signage and advertising campaigns.
• $7,000 to expand the trail system in Miles City and to beautify the pond near the Tongue River bridge.
• $36,000 to develop and promote a recreational corridor between Sidney and Glasgow.
• $22,129 for the purchase of a portable stage system to be utilized at events in Glendive, Dawson County and surrounding communities.
• $34,700 for brochures, flyers, billboards and pamphlets promoting the Northern Cheyenne Tribe’s annual and special events.
• $38,000 to develop the story of the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument through a tribal and historical perspective, including maps, itineraries and an advertising campaign.