By Don Cogger
After nearly a year-long search in which Miles City was a one-time finalist and Terry had thrown its name in the hat, The Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame & Western Heritage Center has seemingly found a home.
Big Timber was chosen as the permanent home of the MCHF, besting other finalists Big Sky, Livingston and Madison County. Miles City withdrew from consideration last December, citing philosophical differences with the hall following its site visit.
“As we concluded our process, the important factors of sustainability, working with Montana’s tourism infrastructure and the overall cost for development of the project played an important role in Big Timber’s selection,” said DuWayne Wilson, MCHF & WHC president, in a press release. “The Stetson building is highly visible and centrally located on I-90. All of the necessary infrastructure is fully developed at the site, while the building itself is simply an open shell that we can incorporate our exhibition plan into.
“In all, this unique package has been offered at an extraordinary cost savings over what it would otherwise cost to implement at any other site. Additionally, the contract terms gave us greater flexibility than some of the other property offers.”
With the site selection process completed, the focus of the MCHF & WHC will be implementing a capital fundraising campaign to move forward with developing the campus in Big Timber.
“We have a clear line of sight for success,” said Mike Gurnett, MCHF & WHC board member. “This is truly a project whose time has come. With this great central I-90 location, I can envision the parking lot filled with school buses from across the state as students explore Montana’s Western Heritage. The timing could not be better for people to step forward with financial support and artifact donations to keep us moving forward to achieving our goals to celebrate what makes Montana so great.”
Miles City Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director John Laney, instrumental in creating the proposal that many in the community hoped would turn Miles City into a serious contender for the hall, said he’s happy for Big Timber and wishes them the best moving for ward.
“I was very surprised, obviously,” Laney said. “I was under the impression that it was down to Big Sky and Twin Bridges. I want only the best for Big Timber. It’s a great community, and they should be proud of what they’ve accomplished. I really hope it works for them.”
Though it was at times a long and frustrating process, Laney said he and the proposal committee have no regrets about taking Miles City out of the running for the MCHF. Many positives came out of the process, including illustrating to the committee the treasure trove that already exists in the community.
“We pulled ourselves out of the running for reasons that make perfect sense for us,” Laney said. “I think a lot of good has come to Miles City because of the proposal process simply because it woke the sleeping giant that is the Range Riders Museum. We started looking at how valuable the Range Riders would be to the MCHF, when all of a sudden the reality is how valuable the Range Riders is to our community.”
Laney said the chamber plans to raise community awareness of the museum and the value it has to Miles City and Custer County. Plans are in the works to develop the Range Riders into a yearround facility.
“I think there’s certainly a great amount of pride in the museum from the community,” he said. “I just think it’s time we gather together and take it to a higher level. From a content standpoint, it’s right up there with the best of them.”
The chamber and the proposal committee have established a relationship with the Range Riders curator and its board of directors in an effort to brainstorm ideas for the future, while being respectful in the process.
“The museum is the board’s baby,” Laney explained. “You don’t just waltz in and say, ‘We want to help, so scoot over and let us get to work.’ There’s a lot of ownership there, and it’s all about building a trust factor.
“I think the important thing is we all understand the direction the facility should and could go. We’ve got two facilities at the west entrance (Range Riders and the Custer County Art and Heritage Center) that are two mainstays from a tourism and cultural standpoint. I don’t think we do them justice, and that’s what we hope to continue to work on.”
Published May 9, 2012