The Governor’s Conference on Tourism and Recreation headed into its final day Tuesday. The three-day event drew around 420 professionals from around the state, who shared business cards, rubbed shoulders and gathered into breakout sessions to talk shop at Butte’s Copper King Hotel.
Daniel Iverson, communications manager for the Montana Department of Commerce, said the annual event is at least 40 years old and is a chance for people working within the tourism and recreation industries to gain new insights in their fields.
“Tourism is one of Montana’s leading industries,” said Iverson, noting that 12.2 million visitors visited the state last year, who collectively spent about $3.7 billion.
In other words, it pays to think long and hard about tourism.
For Butte resident and cycling-advocate Gina Evans, it pays to think about biking tourism in particular.
Evans served as the race director of the Butte 100 mountain-bike race for 11 years before stepping down in 2017 to run her shuttle business Linked Adventures. She is part of a contingent of individuals who seek to bolster the Mining City’s reputation as a place where great biking opportunities can be found.
Evans previously told The Montana Standard that she feels “recreation is the new mining for Butte,” a sentiment she reiterated Tuesday noting that cycling tourists spend on average $75 a day.
“Every additional bicycle tourist could bring a potential $600 to Montana’s economy,” Evans said, citing figures from a 2013 study by the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research.
Jocelyn Dodge, another Butte recreation advocate, also attended the week’s conference.
Dodge is a recreation forester with the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.
Starting in 2007, Dodge helped lead the charge on a $2 million project involving Butte-Silver Bow and the Forest Service that resulted in the revitalization of Thompson Park.
Utilizing grants from a variety of sources, the project was able to turn the once disheveled park into a popular hiking and biking destination, which Dodge estimates boasts over 100 visitors a day from May to October.
Located 10 miles southeast of Butte, the park is perhaps best known for its trail along the former site of the Milwaukee Railroad, which takes hikers and bikers, among other things, across an old railroad trestle.
Dodge, who won the conference’s Tourism Ambassador of the year award in 2017, got a chance to lead a group of conference goers on a hike in Thomson Sunday.
“I’m so proud of our recreation and trail system and the opportunities that have grown over the last 10 years,” said Dodge, when asked what it was like to lead state leaders along the trails that she and others worked so hard to revitalize.
Leaders from Anaconda also stopped by the conference, held in the Clarion Inn Copper King Hotel & Convention Center on Harrison Avenue, including Mary Johnston, executive director of the Anaconda Chamber of Commerce.
Johnston said she walked away from the conference with lots of new ideas that she hopes to bring back to local economic and government leaders, who she said want to spread the word about Anaconda as a destination.
She added that one highlight from the week’s events was the nomination of Anaconda for the conference’s Film Community of the Year award.
Anaconda last summer supplied the backdrop for the indie film “Mickey and the Bear,” which recently showed at South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas. Starring Camila Morrone and directed by Annabelle Attanasio, the film will also be featured at the Independent Film Festival Boston, April 24 through May 1. Combined, the festivals will mean that audiences across the country will get a taste of life Anaconda style.
The prize, handed out Monday night, went to Darby and Hamilton for their role in the TV show “Yellowstone,” but Johnson said just getting nominated was a huge honor.
And if the film goes on to even bigger and better things, what will that mean for Anaconda?
“I think it’s going to show a real authentic hometown,” said Johnston of the film. “It’s a very authentic place with friendly people.”
And perhaps that’s the best attraction of all.