Feasibility study nearing completion for Big Sky Country National Heritage Area

The proposed regional heritage area now has a name: Big Sky Country National Heritage Area.

A local group has been pursuing the Congressional designation since 2015 and this week updated the community on their projects with the feasibility study, themes and projects already in the works within the proposed boundary.

If approved, it would be the first heritage area in Montana.

Group defines region’s national significance as quest for National Heritage Area designation continues

The group hired August Carlino from the Rivers of Steel Heritage Area in Pittsburgh, Penn., and Nancy Morgan, of Point Heritage Development Consulting, as the consultants to help conduct the local feasibility study. The consultants have been visiting the area for about two years to work on the study.

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The consultants are currently writing the draft study report and are incorporating public comments received thus far. The draft goes to the National Park Service for a casual review before going out to the public for an additional 60-day comment period.

Morgan said it will probably be early 2020 before the report is available for public review and then it will be submitted to Congress for consideration, which includes a formal review by NPS. The NHA designation requires Congressional approval.

Richard Ecke sits on the board for the group pursuing the heritage area and said “I think this project is mom and apple pie. How can you be opposed to history and culture.”
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The meeting was held in the Belt Theater, a historic building that was recently restored.

Morgan said projects like the theater restoration are the type of thing heritage areas do really well.
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Ecke said it’s often a matter of funding, but other times heritage areas have people involved that can lend their expertise to other projects within their boundary.

The heritage area group has recently been involved in a number of project, including the effort to repurpose the historic Rainbow Powerhouse, getting signage approved by the Montana Department of Transportation for the four national historic landmarks in the region, submitting an application to add the restored Monarch Depot to the National Registry of Historic Places; supporting the redevelopment of the former Anaconda smelter site in the Black Eagle area; promoting cultural and historical events; and writing content about local cultural and historical sites for the tourism website.
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There are 55 NHAs in 34 states currently and to receive the designation, an area must “tell nationally important stories that celebrate our nation’s diverse heritage. NHAs are lived-in landscapes. Consequently, NHA entities collaborate with communities to determine how to make heritage relevant to local interests and needs,” according to the National Park Service.

Six heritage areas were approved this year, Morgan said, the first time any had been added since 2009.

An effort to explore an NHA has started in Bozeman and Butte-Silver Bow, but they’re in the preliminary stages.

NHAs are a grassroots, community-driven approach to heritage conservation and economic development and typically involved public-private partnerships. According to NPS, the designation often results in sustainable economic development as NHAs can leverage federal funding to create jobs, generate revenue for local governments and sustain local communities through revitalization and heritage tourism.

NHAs in no way restrict individual property ownership rights, impose restrictions or require additional taxes.
National Heritage Area project gaining momentum in Great Falls region

During this week’s meeting, the group shared the slightly revised statement of significance and the themes for the proposed Big Sky County National Heritage Area.

The statement of significance is:

“A pivotal transition occurred across the vast Upper Missouri River landscape where indigenous lifeways faced encroachment and pressure from an expanding American nation. Following more than 12,000 years of human history in the region, the Corps of Discovery led the vanguard of this transformation. Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and their party ascended the Missouri (1804-1806) in search of a Northwest Passage to the Pacific. North America would never be the same. The Great Falls of the Missouri created a physical barrier to river navigation, resulting in an historic portage to bypass the numerous water falls. This natural impediment eventually resulted in Fort Benton becoming the head of steamboat navigation on the Missouri. Fort Benton emerged as a fur and hide emporium of the American nation in this contested land, a hub for the bison robe trade, overland trade, and new settlement. In less than a century, the Upper Missouri River region witnessed the transformation from millennia-old indigenous societies to an agricultural and industrial landscape that supported the rise of a New West.”
Efforts to create National Heritage Area in Great Falls region continuing

The themes, as proposed, are: the Missouri River; First Peoples; the Lewis and Clark Expedition; a Far Distant Land; and the New West.