“This is the richest place on earth.” Rachel Vandevoort, Montana Governor’s Office of Outdoor Recreation.
Here in Butte we often boast about Butte being “The richest hill on earth,” a tribute to the rich and diverse mineral resources that supported the development of what was for many years the biggest city between Minneapolis and Seattle, helped wire the world for electricity and helped win two world wars.
Obviously, for residents of Butte, we are well aware of the scars left from a century and a half (and counting) of mining, not to mention the ecological issues, not least of which is the Berkeley Pit.
Yet, you get to a vantage point and look around and what do you see?
Unless you’re looking directly at the mining scars, what we see could be described as one of the most spectacular views anywhere. We’re surrounded in all directions by snow-capped mountains and (soon) green valleys. Travel for an hour in most any direction and we can find world-class trout streams, big game hunting, great skiing, hiking, camping, mountain biking, rock climbing, motorized recreation, and the list keeps going on.
Rachel Vandevoort, whom I quoted above, grew up in the Flathead and went to the University of Montana in Missoula, and then got acquainted with the outdoor recreation in the Butte area, and fell in love with our opportunities. Now, she’s heading up a new function in the governor’s office, promoting outdoor recreation and outdoors-oriented business.
Still, when national magazines run stories about great outdoor living towns, we rarely get mentioned. That’s good and bad. It’s not all bad living in an outdoor recreation paradise that’s also one of Montana’s better kept secrets.
But, being a secret means we’re losing out on a lot of business. On the flip side there’s a lot of unrealized potential for outdoor-related business growth in our area.
That was the theme of the Butte Outdoor Sector Summit, a conference held a couple weeks ago, sponsored by the Butte Local Development Corporation. You’ve probably seen some coverage of this in other outlets, but I’m sure that every attendee came away from with a different take.
A continuing theme in the conference was the importance of public lands, particularly federal public lands, in our area. Public lands mean economic advantages, as locally accessible federal public lands draw people and that translates to economic development.
Part of the picture is that people come to areas like this and fall in love with all the fun stuff, and then realize that if they want to be here they’ll need a way to make a living. That often means starting a business. In short, the abundance of outdoor recreation on public lands leads to entrepreneurial activity.
A panel of business owners, including a couple people from Bozeman, also emphasized that easy access to the outdoors is a definite plus in recruiting employees.
A significant part of the conference, though other presentations running overtime almost made it an afterthought, was an announcement that the BLDC is developing a one-stop internet site as a gateway to Butte’s outdoors. Basecamp Butte will be the name of the website.
On the topic of development and economic growth, there is always the issue of how much and how many. Bozeman, our neighbor to the east, is a case in point. Bozeman has mushroomed the last 30 years and Gallatin County now has an estimated population of 105,000.
Journalist Todd Wilkinson, writing in the September 2017 Mountain Journal, cited projections that, assuming 3 percent growth, Bozeman would be the size of Salt Lake City (not counting suburbs) by 2041, and by 2065, have 420,000 people, the size of Minneapolis (excluding St. Paul and suburbs). The scary thing is that a growth rate of 3 percent understates the actual growth rate.
There are probably some business promoters and boosters who would cheer those projections. I suspect that people who love the outdoors would call that a worst-case scenario.
Personally, I’ve long felt that Bozeman’s urban sprawl is already a worst-case scenario.