A Lincoln County plan part 4: Guiding local tourism

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Tourism is already a part of the Lincoln County economy, but when the subject is discussed around the community, there is sometimes contention about how big a role tourism should have, and what locals want that tourism to look like.

During a meeting in Troy last fall to discuss the city’s inclusion in the Main Street Montana Project, a group of community members spoke with Lt. Governor Mike Cooney.

There was general agreement that people in and around Troy don’t want to change their community in order to attract tourism, or attract tourists who will change their way of life.

The group chewed on how to define the type of tourist they would like to have visiting Troy, including concerns over crowded trails and a desire to attract families.

Council member Chuck Ekstedt put some of the concepts into a single phrase: “Someone who wants to enjoy our beauty and not change it.”

Amber Pacheco-Holm, with the Libby Chamber of Commerce, said that tourism is already Montana’s second-largest export.

Holm, who also sits on the Glacier Country Regional Tourism Commission board of directors, said tourism accounted for $3.4 billion generated for Montana in 2017.

“So, there’s a lot of money to be had,” she said.

Non resident visitor numbers are down, but those visitors are spending more money in Montana and staying longer, she said.

“So, from the chamber’s perspective, it’s not only, ‘How do we get them to come here?’ but, ‘How do we get them to stay longer and spend more money?’” she said.

Pacheco-Holm said that there’s a balance to be struck between making money off of the natural beauty of the community and preserving it.

A quarter of visitors to Montana begin their journey passing through Lincoln County on Highway 2, but she said that the Libby Chamber is still working on estimating the portion of those visitors who stop and spend their money here.

Beyond that, they are also working to determine how to attract more of those driving Highway 2 to stop here.

One initiative is offseason marketing over the past two winters by the Libby Chamber, and Pacheco-Holm said they have had a positive response to it.

They were told by the owners of the Evergreen Motel that they previously hadn’t had any snowmobilers come and stay over the winter, but saw that change after the Libby Chamber’s initiative began.

“I think we have all the assets that fit the Montana brand,” she said. “These unique experiences, outdoor recreation — and we have more public access than any other place in the state.”

Susie Taylor, president of the Troy Chamber of Commerce, said that the Troy Chamber has recently begun new efforts to attract those passing through Troy to stop and experience the community.

Part of that effort is the new chamber building that has gone in behind the Troy Museum.

“We are just so happy that this has happened for us, and that we have the funds available this year to do it,” she said.

Aiding that new push for the Troy Chamber to be more active has been an influx of new members who are energized, Taylor said. The City of Troy has also been helpful in making the space available and in assisting with the set up.

With a building readily visible from Highway 2, the Troy Chamber hopes to not only encourage tourists to stop, but to begin interacting with those visitors to find ways to attract more tourism dollars to the community.

Though an independent entity tied to the businesses owned by local hotelier Paul Bunn, Kootenai Country Montana also has been working to increase the tourism profile of the local community, according to Troy Douthit, with KCM.

“It’s our belief that if we can build a strong tourism economy, it will help maintain things here,” Douthit said.

Traditionally, the local economy has been heavily reliant on resource extraction, but there is often little control locally over how that develops, he said. The goal of KCM is to bolster a tourism industry that is controlled locally, and which can help to keep things going regardless of whether other industries are going boom, or are going bust.

“There’s always going to be outside forces that influence whether or not we can use (natural resources),” he said. “Tourism is different because that’s something we can directly control. We can make this a place where people want to come and spend their time and their money.”

Toward that end, KCM is also working on promoting year-round tourism, he said.

“Our philosophy has always been, if we can show people this place, they’re going to want to come back,” he said.

As Lincoln County works toward the next steps in the Growth Policy and Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy planning process, The Western News will run a series of articles exploring the challenges and opportunities that relate to economic growth and vitality. We will also look at some of the community organizations and government entities that play a role in the economic and social health of the community.

The next opportunity for public input into the plans will be during a workshop with the Lincoln County Planning Board on Tuesday, July 16, at 5:30 p.m. in the commissioners room at the Lincoln County Courthouse.

More information about the Growth Policy and CEDS process can be found at planlincolncounty.com.

If you have suggestions for subjects you think should be brought into the community discussion, please contact your editor, Ben Kibbey, at 406-334-0956 or bkibbey@thewesternnews.com.

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