The Explore! The Big Sky month-long event has come to an end, and it looks like final attendance figures didn’t quite meet expectations: an estimated 40,000 visitors came through Great Falls and Fort Benton. Financially, it didn’t turn out too well, either: the deficit incurred by EBS is estimated at more than $500,000. Overall it appears that tourism was up due to EBS and Lewis & Clark events, which is good, but the increase didn’t come close to what organizers had predicted.
On the other hand, Peggy Bourne, the executive director of EBS, points out that the community gained many non-financial benefits that will help Great Falls in the future. Among them:
• An outdoor amphitheater was installed at the Interpretive Center;
• Handicap access trail was installed to Decision Point;
• A new entry sign into Giant Springs Heritage State Park and the Interpretive Center;
• A parking area, trailhead and pedestrian trail to Sulphur Springs;
• Improvements to the Great Falls Visitor’s Center;
• New restroom and barn at the Chouteau County Fairgrounds;
• A permanent water display at the Children’s Museum of Montana;
• A sculpture located at the Great Falls Visitor’s Center and three original murals painted and enjoyed by students and faculty in Great Falls schools;
• A Tourist Information Radio Station that can be used to promote community activities from this point forward as well as enhance public safety communication in Great Falls.
• Visitors from all over the world attended the event and offered wonderful comments about the event, our community and their desire to return;
On balance, the $500,000 deficit will eventually be settled, and the benefits listed above (and more) will remain for many years. Was it worth it? I think so.