Montana, often dubbed “Big Sky Country,” is a state along the CDT known for its stunning landscapes and vibrant communities. The trail travels through some of Montana’s most majestic and historic lands: Waterton Lake and Glacier National Park on the Canadian border, the lofty peaks of the Anaconda and Bitterroot mountains, Chief Joseph Pass, named for the Nez Perce chief Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, ghosts of the region’s mining past, and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, with its iconic Chinese Wall, a 1,000-foot winding natural escarpment.
Along the CDT, you will find trail-friendly towns that serve as the perfect backdrop for outdoor adventure. To better understand the connection between economic development and CDT users, CDTC recently embarked on a road trip to visit the CDT Gateway Communities of Helena, Lincoln, Anaconda, and Butte. We hosted small business roundtables as part of CDTC’s support of local enterprises. This trip was a reminder of not only the beauty of Montana’s outdoors but also the resilience, creativity, and community spirit of its residents.
We began our road trip in the Gateway Community of Helena where we held our first roundtable at 10 Mile Creek Brewery. This event brought together a diverse group of stakeholders including business owners (such as the Montana Inn), representatives from tourism and outdoor recreation organizations (including our partners at Visit Helena), community leaders, and local residents to discuss ways to promote sustainable economic growth. Participants discussed the various ways in which the CDT attracts outdoor enthusiasts and tourists to the area and how local businesses can benefit from increased foot traffic.
The picturesque backdrop of Helena also reminded us that this community truly stands as a gateway to the CDT and all the opportunities it provides. With its rich history, cultural vibrancy, and access to an expansive trail system, this Gateway Community not only offers a warm welcome to CDT users but also hints at the landscape that lies ahead in the southwest Montana portion of the trail.
CDTC visited to the Gateway Community of Lincoln to talk about economic development opportunities and local business engagement. During this meeting, representatives from the Lincoln community, including local community Ambassador Laurie Richards, shared their vision for mutually beneficial partnerships with the local businesses and residents.
While in Lincoln, CDTC also visited the local Sculpture Park, a unique forested haven inviting visitors to pause and enjoy art and nature. This captivating outdoor setting offered a refreshing stop for us, and those stopping through town, to immerse themselves in the beauty just outside of town. We look forward to hosting a collaborative effort with the Sculpture Park in the near future to not only enhance the visitor experience along the CDT, but also bolster the economic well-being of the Lincoln community. This experience will encourage a deeper connection between trail enthusiasts and expand engagement in local events.
From Helena, CDTC traveled southwest to the Gateway Community of Anaconda, where we were greeted by “The Stack,” a notable landmark underneath the Pintler range headed towards town. When we arrived, we began setting up for the event at the Montana Hotel (200 Main St.), a beloved community building breathing new life on behalf of the Anaconda Restoration Association. Robin McKernan, President of Anaconda Trail Society (ATS), shared with us the mission and future of community events to be held at this historic building. From there, she gave us a tour of the community’s hiker hut at Washoe Park – overseen by ATS – with loaner bicycles, wifi, lockers, a refrigerator, and a microwave. We were even greeted by two hikers who were using the area as they were on the final stretch of their journey.
CDTC held our second roundtable, in partnership with ATS, Pintler’s Portal Hostel, and Discover Anaconda, which was attended by over 30 small business owners, city employees, outdoor enthusiasts, and representatives from the hospitality industry. The discussion highlighted the opportunity for small businesses to provide services and products catering to CDT hikers, such as accommodations, shuttle services, and outdoor gear rentals. Attendees emphasized the importance of workforce development and training to meet the unique needs of CDT-related businesses and to ensure the best possible visitor experience. This roundtable was led not only by CDTC, but also included presentations from Discover Anaconda’s Executive Director, Kathleen Tarkalson, and Joe Ungaretti, Director of Anaconda-Deer Lodge County Parks and Recreation. This diverse set of presenters talked about recreation as an economic driver and building a healthy outdoor community.
Rounding out our final visit to Butte, we were welcomed with open arms to the Butte KOA Journey by its proprietor, Kathryn Manz. The Butte KOA has big plans to make their grounds (even more) hiker-amenable in addition to hosting a community garden, where residents of Butte can enjoy locally grown vegetables.
The friendly hospitality beginning at the KOA extended to the final roundtable, hosted by the Butte Brewery and in partnership with the Butte Chamber of Commerce & CVB and local Gateway Community Advisory Committee members. This featured a lively discussion with over 25 attendees on the historical significance of the CDT in the region. Attendees included business owners from Butte’s historic district, heritage tourism experts, Chamber members, local business owners, and local trail enthusiasts. The conversation centered on the potential for small businesses to capitalize on the trail’s historical aspects, including mining heritage and cultural attractions. Participants agreed that storytelling and interpretation could be powerful tools to engage tourists and promote the rich history of the area. The community members also believe they can leverage their close proximity to Anaconda and work together to meet the needs of CDT users and visitors.
This road trip provided valuable insights into how the CDT impacts business in these communities. These discussions underscored the importance of collaboration between local businesses, government agencies, chambers of commerce, and trail-related organizations so residents and visitors alike can share benefits of the trail. Participants recognized that small businesses can thrive by highlighting the trail’s popularity and unique features. CDTC staff look forward to using this information to guide future initiatives aimed at enhancing economic development along the CDT in Montana, and sharing with the other 16 designated CDT Gateway Communities along the Trail’s length. It’s clear that these towns, with their natural beauty and local stewards, are more than just stops along the CDT. They are where economic development and community engagement go hand in hand.
Are you a small business owner or representative of a local business along the CDT? The Continental Divide Trail Coalition is conducting its 2023 Small Business Survey to learn more about how the CDT impacts local businesses, their local economy, and their support for public lands. This survey will take less than 10 minutes to complete, and your answers will help guide the ongoing stewardship of the trail.
Please follow the link to join CDTC in this process to support and enrich the CDT landscape alongside community development!2023 Small Business Survey