By Mira Brody
Laughter echoes across the lobby of the Big Sky Community’s Organization’s new BASE community center in Big Sky Town Center as a toddler races past a foosball table to a tree-shaped reading nook. There is a senior couple at the front desk signing up for a new membership, and across the hall, a family peers into the gymnasium. Two men ask a staff member about the workout equipment up on the second floor and a group of schoolchildren peek into the Arts Council of Big Sky’s new spacious classroom, a row of six pottery wheels lining the wall.
For those who have been working in concert for the last four years to make BASE a reality, this symphony of action is a dream come true.
“It feels amazing,” said BSCO board member Michelle Horning. Horning is one of the first of many community members who dreamt up, and advocated for, BASE from the beginning. “I feel like a new family member was born. It’s been part of our lives for such a long time—I have a daughter that’s a freshman in college and she’s heard me talk about this since 2010, so it’s pretty awesome to have it finally come to fruition.”
Horning recalls a day back in 2010, brainstorming with her then-employer, Andy Dreisbach, Big Sky contractor and owner of Cornerstone Management Services. They imagined the concept of a recreation and community center in the heart of Big Sky, open to all. Although the timing wasn’t right, Horning and her supporters refused to let the conversation perish and when Ciara Wolfe, who served as BSCO’s executive director until 2020, joined the team in 2015, BASE finally found a leader who could make it a reality.
An anchor for the community
Encouraged by the idea of a community center, the Big Sky community then did what it does best—joined forces to build something from the ground up.
By 2017, through a survey conducted by BSCO, the residents of Big Sky had already identified that a community center was a top priority. Land for the facility and the adjacent Len Hill Park was secured by 2018 thanks to an ambitious fundraising effort that netted over $20 million, the generosity of the Simkins family, the Len Hill Trust and Dr. Patricia Gordon, as well as other generous donors. Shovels broke ground on BASE in July 2019 and its doors opened on March 13, 2022.
“It really came from the needs in the community and the void of just having a lack of center in the community,” said BASE Director Madeleine Feher. Although new to the position, Feher has lived in Big Sky for 20 years and remembers when the building she gets to work in each day was still just a dream. “We have such transience with our seasonality, we just needed something to anchor us and that’s really where it started.”
Big Adventure, Safe Environment
Big Adventure, Safe Environment—that’s what BASE stands for, and within its walls, you can see why.
The most noticeable element upon arriving is the climbing wall. At 25 feet tall with 15 belay stations as well as a bouldering wall, the color-specked base camp for current and future rock climbers of all ages is the first of its kind in Big Sky. BASE worked with Spire Climbing Center in Bozeman to set routes on the wall, and climbing programs will be supported by a volunteer Climbing Task Force.
In an adjacent room is the gymnasium, complete with six basketball hoops and pickle ball and volleyball nets. BASE is working with local baseball coach Matt Morris to build an indoor batting area. Upstairs, with Lone Mountain peering from spacious windows, is a fully equipped workout facility where gym-goers can train indoors or attend one of BASE’s many fitness classes, including yoga, strength and spin programs run by Eileen Coil, BASE’s fitness and wellness manager.
Back downstairs is a multi-use room, which Feher believes will be the most used room in BASE. Fit with floor-to-ceiling mirrors, the room can be used as a dance studio, for spin classes or Zumba. The room can also transform into a rentable meeting space complete with a catering kitchen.
Alongside physical health are the equally important behavioral health services BASE will offer. Shannon Steele, the behavioral health program officer with the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation, is working closely with BASE to co-coordinate programming for the wellness space that will include mental health counseling, support groups and nutrition classes. Also available will be Marriage and Family Counseling, a Wellness Navigator Network, a Youth Wellness Leadership Group, Suicide Alertness trainings and other trauma-informed workshops for community leaders. Those interested in learning more as these offerings take shape can visit the front desk.
“We know that stigma exists surrounding mental and behavioral health, but hope that with BASE offering holistic programming, that people will begin to feel that prioritizing all aspects of their well-being is within reach,” said Steele. “To me, this plays a role in creating a safe environment.”
“I feel lucky to play a role in ensuring there are accessible mental health services in our community,” she continued. “Everyone deserves quality and affordable care, and the opportunity to thrive here.”
BASE has a safety officer on staff as well as an indoor space that will be open beyond operating hours where people can wait for the bus. Feher also reminds the community that during open hours, the lobby serves as a gathering space for everyone—whether you want to drink coffee with a friend, host a game night or read a book quietly.
BASE also houses the new offices of BSCO as well as the Arts Council of Big Sky. The Arts Council will benefit from an art classroom, which includes a kiln, six pottery wheels and bright windows that offer views of inspiring landscapes. Their central location, explains Megan Buecking, the Arts Council’s education and outreach director, will help them be more available to the community.
“It’s really great because we’ve never had our own studio space,” she said. “It opens up a lot of opportunities that before were not possible just because we didn’t have a place to host something like a pottery class.”
Another source of pride for BASE is the building’s Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification. This means the construction of the building meets the guidelines of an environmentally responsible building. Some green features include solar panels on the gymnasium roof, a living roof with real foliage on the first floor and 55 geo wells drilled 450 feet into the ground that help maintain a baseline temperature of 55 F throughout the building.
The community deserves a place to gather
A huge part of BASE’s mission is being available to everyone, regardless of income. BSCO’s CEO, Whitney Montgomery, says BSCO has intentionally kept monthly BASE membership pass rates as low as possible and have a financial aid application to help those who need it.
“This is what’s so exciting for me is that it’s a place that everyone can come to, it’s not limiting by any economic factors at all, and it’s a public place,” Horning said.
Pass options accommodate singles, couples, families, punch cards and seasonal worker rates. Montgomery, Horning and Feher unanimously voice their hope that BASE’s future includes growth in recreational leagues, camp programming and ultimately a community public pool, providing more activities apart from skiing and going to the bars.
“This community deserves a place to come gather and recreate and just be together and get to know one another better,” Montgomery said.
Like many projects in Big Sky, BASE was made possible by the community it serves—from the initial passion behind the idea, to fundraising efforts and generous donors, to the people who today fill its walls. The building, with the words COMMUNITY aptly painted across the structure’s façade, serves as a reminder of what is possible when we come together.