Finding the time to ride
Packy Cronin discusses the golden era of Big Sky and volunteering
Paul “Packy” Cronin, likely the longest tenured member of any board in Big Sky history recently steppeddown as Big Sky County Water and Sewer district board president. After 19 years serving on the board and 20 years of living in Big Sky, he’s been no stranger to controversy. Now, he’d like a break from the stress and wants to enjoy the wild places of Montana with his wife, Melissa, by his side.
Kiting, mountain biking and camping are just a few of the hobbies that keep the couple busy. Cronin fondly discussed the golden era of Big Sky and what made him return, stay and volunteer for so long, after stepping foot on Lone Peak in 1973 – when he was “just a kid.”
“John Kircher used to throw parties in the mall and he would party with us. He was one of the guys. He was the owner, the manager, and he was hauling a keg out of the basement and we were going to drink it,” he said.
Despite those late nights with the staff, Kircher would be there bright and early in the morning – working hard. No job that improved the mountain was beneath him, Cronin pointed-out. “The golden age was right around when they built the tram, it was pretty damn cool to be in Big Sky living that life,” he said. “You knew everybody. They knew you. It was about skiing, too. It really was.”
He was in Big Sky when mountain bikes first came on the scene. Someone excitedly told him about these new kinds of bikes that you could ride on the trail, so Cronin told himself he needed to try it. He’s been hooked ever since and applauds the community’s and Big Sky Resort’s efforts to bring mountain biking into the fold. “I think it ‘s really good that Big Sky has embraced that and brought that along. Props to them for changing with the times, getting on it and doing the right thing,” he said.
Some of his favorite places to ride are also in the Henry’s Lake Mountains and the Lionshead area. “I’m really passionate about mountain bike access to public lands,” he said. “Its world class backcountry riding along the Continental Divide, and it’s threatened by the wilderness advocates.” He and his wife Melissa participate in the annual trail clearing weekend that is a collaborative effort between Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association and like-minded equestrians where they “haul saws up to the top of the divide on a horse pack train.” Everyone works together to clear the trails.
“It's super fun to spend a weekend in an incredible place, and leave it looking better than when you showed up. I think it’s important to highlight mountainbiking’s contribution to maintaining trails on remote public land,” he said. His lifelong hobby of mountain biking has presented another post-water and sewer board volunteer opportunity. His wife, who is heavily involved with Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association has been helping build-up Copper City – over 20 miles of mountain biking trails created by the organization on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, which was mandated years ago to increase recreational opportunities.
“It is controversy free. It’s like apple pie. Nobody gets mad at Copper City trails. It makes me feel good,” Cronin said. He did note that there was one electronic biker who recently became upset that ebikes are not allowed on Copper City trails. Still, he is happy to be involved in something so positive. Now, his wife goes through lengthy board meetings while he helps construct things at Copper City – including the outhouses and the sign kiosk. He told himself after stepping away from the board: “You can still get something good done in this world. You’ve just gotta pick and choose what you’re doing.”