YES Compost owner Karl Johnson discusses sustainability with Dr. Kim Langmaid after her presentation. PHOTO BY JANA BOUNDS

A sustainable future

Big Sky listens to another community’s journey

More than 25 people gathered at Rainbow Ranch on Oct. 10 for Big Sky Chamber’s “Lunch and Learn” in which Dr. Kim Langmaid, founder and vice president of sustainability programs at Walking Mountains Science Center in Vail, Colo. discussed Vail’s efforts to become the first certified and internationally recognized sustainable mountain resort destination in North America in 2018. 

Her presentation seemed one-part inspirational discussion about how a community like Big Sky can be proactive and provide benefits to visitors and residents while minimizing impacts to the natural world. 

It also seemed one-part cautionary tale. Vail competed with Jackson Hole, Wyom. to attain the distinction of the first certified sustainable mountain resort destination in the U.S. – and won. Still, the community had to provide substantial evidence of efforts to confront issues. Exponential growth came at a cost for the area: Gore Creek that winds through the mountain community feeds into the Eagle River, a river that was so polluted at one point there were areas where fish could not survive. The 10 miles of Gore Creek that extend through Vail proper face every kind of stressor from development according to an article by Mountain Town News: pristine lawns with run-off by the application of herbicides and pesticides, pavement from copious roadways paving the path for river run-off, cleaning products used at area businesses. The article discusses the millions invested by the community to restore the creek, what could ultimately be in the neighborhood of $9 million at the time of completion.  

“We worked to understand what really caused the demise of our creek. It was a variety of things,” Langmaid said. 

Her example provided the same kinds of warnings environmental groups have been speaking about the Gallatin River to board members in meetings across Big Sky. 

The goal of a sustainable community should be to maximize benefits – social, economic, community, tourism, cultural, and environmental while minimizing the negative impacts, she explained. 

Langmaid discussed the grassroots efforts, the formation of a steering committee, and branding in order to make the community’s bid to become certified sustainable a success. 

“Have you as a community been able to document less water consumption, less waste going to the land fill?” Resort Tax chairperson Kevin Germain asked. 

“Yes,” she replied, “We were able to show energy reduction a little bit these last three years, we were able to show decreasing waste, increasing recycling the last few years. We continue to try to improve upon that. Businesses being able to track their energy use can be challenging. So, we are trying to put in some data generating indicators.”

YES Compost owner Karl Johnson said it is important these meetings and discussions are happening now. 

“It’s not Vail yet, but if it’s going to go that way, all these things need to be prioritized now,” he said. He also discussed land management with her – the meadow and mountain in terms of building. There is so much wildlife, he said. 

“In Bozeman, all the farmland is gone,” he said. “There is no regulation. I don’t see the process, but it just seems there are no stop signs or even yield signs in terms of the way things are being built up. In terms of being a sustainable city you need to set up yield signs right now.”

Land management is a long-term vision that needs to be discussed immediately, he said “so that it doesn’t get off track.” 

He cautioned against letting things go another 10 years and then assessing, even the culture needs to be understood.  

“You want to make sure to start now, thinking about it and documenting so that you can know what you are preserving,” he said. 

Big Sky Chamber of Commerce CEO Candace Carr Strauss spoke to the recent formation of a sustainability board under the umbrella of Visit Big Sky before introducing Langmaid. So new that it does not have a formal name yet, Josh Treasure, chair of the board said he would like to see it called something like GO GREEN BIG SKY. Ultimately though, he said the name is not as important as accomplishing organization goals – particularly to create “the most sustainable resort destination in America.” 

“I have been working closely with other members in the community for the past few years to reduce plastic usage, bring compost bins to businesses and events and more!” he explained. “We are currently working on a deal to stop selling all plastic water bottles, which will be replaced by BOXED WATER IS BETTER and aluminum water cans. Big Sky is tricky because we are unincorporated. It will take a lot of donated time, hard work and determination.”

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