Missoula County earns national achievement award for Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority

The National Association of Counties named Missoula County as a recipient of a 2021 Achievement Award in recognition of the county’s effort to establish the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority. The award honors innovative, effective county government programs that strengthen services for residents.  

NACo recognized the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority in the Transportation category. The Authority, which Missoula County spearheaded in the spring of 2020, is comprised of 13 partner counties across Montana who represent diverse geographies, economies and politics, all with the same goal: restoring passenger rail service to the southern tier of the state. 

“We’re extremely honored to receive this award on behalf of the member counties of the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, recognizing their leadership in creating the first regional passenger rail authority in Montana,” Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said. “We hope that what we’ve accomplished in Montana will inspire other counties across the nation to work together on big goals, bridging the ideological and geographic and rural-urban divides that too often split us apart.” 

Establishing the rail authority created the governance structure to seek and accept funding for implementation of long-distance inter-city rail service across southern Montana, which likely would not be possible if any one county pursued the initiative on its own. This partner approach connects our rural communities with larger urban cities across Montana and welcomes a spirit of culture and diversity, which strengthens the Authority’s purpose to preserve and improve abandoned rail service for agriculture, industry or passenger traffic and to preserve the abandoned railroad right-of-way for future transportation uses.  

“Over the past year, county officials and frontline employees have demonstrated bold, inspirational leadership,” NACo President Gary Moore said. “This year’s Achievement Award winning programs illustrate the innovative ways counties build healthy, safe and vibrant communities across America.” 

Nationally, awards are given in 18 different categories that reflect the vast, comprehensive services counties provide. The categories include children and youth, criminal justice and public safety, risk and emergency management, transportation, information technology, health, civic engagement and many more. 

Started in 1970, NACo’s annual Achievement Awards program is designed to recognize county government innovations. Each nominee is judged on its own merits and not against other applications received.  

Learn more at bigskyrail.org

Historical Museum at Fort Missoula Awarded $533,000 Grant to Preserve, Interpret Japanese American Confinement Sites

The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula is honored to receive a 2021 Japanese American Confinement Sites grant worth $533,000.  

An effort of the National Parks Service, the program recognizes the Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander communities and honors their rich heritage dating back thousands of years, their contributions that shaped the history of the United States, and the ways in which moments in history dramatically influenced their lives. 

The funds will help restore and reconstruct two original World War II Alien Detention Center barracks at the Historical Museum for the purpose of creating an immersive interpretive space and state-of-the-art collections storage. The grant will improve the museum’s ability to serve our community, increase tourism and honor the 2,200 men of Japanese and Italian descent who were wrongly imprisoned at Fort Missoula during the war. 

“Our selection for this grant will allow Missoula County and the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula to increase our efforts to preserve and interpret the most intact internment or incarceration camp in the United States,” Historical Museum of Fort Missoula Executive Director Matt Lautzenheiser said.  “As our country continues to grapple with issues of social justice, it’s important for museums and cultural institutions to remain beacons of truth and places where our community can reflect on our history, both good and bad, and learn important lessons from the past.” 

Nationwide, Japanese American Confinement Sites grants will fund 22 preservation, restoration and education projects that will help tell the story of the more than 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens, who the U.S. government imprisoned following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. 

More than 1,000 Japanese men, all resident aliens barred by law from American citizenship, were held at Fort Missoula and subjected to loyalty hearings. None were ever charged with any act of disloyalty, but all remained in custody at Fort Missoula or other camps for the duration of the war.  

“History matters, and unless we understand the past — even when painful — we do a grave disservice to those who lived through that history and to current and future generations who must learn to do better,” Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said. “To that end, we must never forget the story of the Fort Missoula Internment Camp, and we are honored to receive this grant to do just that. A big shout out to Missoula County grants staff and the staff of the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula for making this a reality and putting Missoula County on the map.” 

Fort Missoula is currently the largest intact World War II internment site in the country, with most major buildings of the era still in use, including the Post Headquarters with its courtroom, the hospital, commissary, officer and staff housing, barracks and other support structures. The museum has an exhibit on internment housed in an original barrack and a new exhibit in the Heath Gallery of the Main Museum building titled “Looking Like the Enemy: Issei Internment at Fort Missoula.  HMFM also hosts regular public programs and events on the site’s internment history.  

Projects associated with the 10 War Relocation Authority centers established in 1942 and the more than 40 additional confinement sites are eligible for Japanese Confinement Sites grants. The program’s mission is to teach future generations about the injustices of the World War II confinement of Japanese Americans and to inspire a commitment to equal justice under the law. The National Park Service awards grants to successful project proposals based on a competitive process, and applicants must match the grant award with $1 in non-federal funds or “in-kind” contributions for every $2 they receive in federal money. 

Missoula County and Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium break ground on the Rocky Mountain Gardens and Exploration Center

Representatives from the Missoula County Weed District & Extension and the Missoula Butterfly House & Insectarium, along with other community partners, grabbed shovels and garden hoes to ceremoniously break ground on the 29,000-square-foot Rocky Mountain Gardens & Exploration Center Friday at the Missoula County Fairgrounds. Expected to open in early 2023, Jackson Construction will begin construction of the center later this month.

The Exploration Center will be the premier center for scientific education and community-centered learning in the Rocky Mountain West and is the first major new building in the fairgrounds’ revitalization efforts. The year-round destination will be home to Montana’s first tropical butterfly house, 2.5 acres of premier education gardens, demonstration kitchens, a greenhouse, plant lab and classrooms. Providing a one-of-a-kind, immersive scientific and cultural experience for people of all ages, the center will draw residents and visitors to Midtown Missoula.

“The Rocky Mountain Gardens & Exploration Center will be an invaluable resource to our community for generations to come,” said Missoula County Commissioner Juanita Vero. “A place of education, exploration and wonderment, teaching people how to understand, respect and cultivate the rich resources throughout our region.”

The project is a public-private partnership years in the making. The Weed District & Extension, Healthy Acres Healthy Communities Foundation (the philanthropic partner of the Weed District & Extension), the Missoula Butterfly House & Insectarium, and the Missoula Conservation District will share the space and cost of the center. Jerry Marks, Weed District & Extension department head and long-time MSU Extension agent, and Jen and Glenn Marangelo, founders of the Missoula Butterfly House & Insectarium, have collaborated with their teams since 2018 to solidify their partnership to create a center that will grow hands-on scientific education and connect people to Western Montana’s rural heritage.

The total working estimate of the project is $16 million. Earlier this week, the Missoula Butterfly House & Insectarium and the Healthy Acres Healthy Communities Foundation, both 501c3 organizations, launched the public phase of Join the Buzz, a $5 million capital campaign to help build the Exploration Center and support programs.

“What we’re creating is incredibly important for Missoula, for science and for our understanding of the world around us,” said Doug Emlen, Montana Regents Professor of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Montana and co-chair of the Join the Buzz Campaign. “The Exploration Center will immerse people in an environment where they can truly see how extraordinarily insects and plants go together. It’s going to be the first thing people want to do when they get off the interstate.” 

The Missoula Conservation District will also make its home at the Exploration Center and is contributing $250,000 toward construction costs for its office space at the center and has secured funding for a portion of the greenhouse.

More information about the project is available at JoinTheBuzzMissoula.org

Missoula County Invites Public to Participate in Community Needs Survey, Public Meeting

Missoula County is seeking input to help identify needs and gaps in the community related to public infrastructure and facilities, economic development, housing, human services and COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. 

The Community and Planning Services Grants and Community Programs division conducts an annual community needs assessment to gauge the community’s interests and funding priorities. The needs assessment is the first step in determining how to effectively use potential state and federal funds and to ensure that community development projects reflect community needs. 

The public is invited to fill out a brief and anonymous survey online at missoula.co/cna-survey. The survey will be open Wednesday, May 5, through Wednesday, May 19, and the results will be presented from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 25, during a virtual Microsoft Teams public meeting. Member of the public and news media can join the meeting using the following information: 

Microsoft Teams meeting 

Join on your computer or mobile app 

Click here to join the meeting 

Or call in (audio only)   

+1 406-272-4824  

Phone Conference ID: 621 101 552#   

Comments may be given orally at the public meeting or in writing by Friday, May 28. Written comments must be submitted to caps@missoulacounty.us

“This year’s assessment will focus on housing priorities to assist in developing an affordable housing strategy for Missoula County,” Grants Administrator Kayla Talbert said. “Public participation and feedback is vital to help staff determine the best use of grant funding.” 

Missoula County may apply for funding from the Montana Community Development Block Grant Program or HOME Investment Partnerships Program (federal funding administered by the Montana Department of Commerce) and other state and federal funding sources to support local housing, public facilities/infrastructure or other community needs. 

Previous funding has supported partial construction costs of the Poverello Center and the new YWCA Family Housing Center – The Meadowlark, wastewater system updates in East Missoula and an updated wastewater system for the resident-owned Buena Vista trailer court near the airport.   

Missoula County Awarded $700,000 Grant to Address Over-Incarceration

The Missoula County Community Justice Department recently received a second two-year $700,000 grant through the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge to support strategies to safely reduce the county detention facility population and address racial and ethnic disparities in Missoula’s justice system.  

The funds will help expand current initiatives launched in 2018, when Missoula County was first awarded a Safety and Justice Challenge grant. It will help the county work toward its goals of reducing rates of defendants failing to appear at required court procedures, minimizing probation and pretrial violations, shortening pretrial length of stay in jail for defendants who have not been convicted of a crime, and evaluating and reducing racial and ethnic disparities within the legal justice system. 

“This grant allows Missoula County the ability to make headway in many areas including criminal justice reform, equity, public safety and the efficient use of public funds,” Commissioner Josh Slotnick said. “Local governments compete for these McArthur Foundation funds, and our staff’s success with the first award laid the groundwork to receive this second round of funding to help continue the good work they’ve implemented.” 

The Community Justice Department determined six grant-funded employees are needed to meet the intended goals of the program. A Safety and Justice Challenge coordinator will lead the program objectives and facilitate an implementation team with community stakeholders and agencies. Two staff members will provide pretrial defendants with support, information, referrals and resources, and a dually licensed social worker will conduct chemical dependency evaluations for probation and parole and help increase access to needed services for those with a substance use disorder.  

The Missoula County Detention Facility also will gain a re-entry coordinator to provide support to individuals leaving the facility for successful, independent re-entry into the community, and the state Office of Public Defender will welcome a Native American peer support specialist to create meaningful connection and support for Indigenous defendants.  

In addition to hiring staff, the county plans to expand on the current jail population dashboard by gathering additional data to help identify and analyze racial and ethnic disparities in the legal justice system from the initial point of contact to adjudication. This dashboard and the current public safety assessment tool will help measure the success of the program and capture justice system inequalities that need to be addressed. 

Stakeholder and community input gathered through surveys, focus groups and meetings will help align the continued funding with community priorities. The grant runs from April 1, 2021, through June 30, 2023. 

The Safety and Justice Challenge is a national initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. The MacArthur Foundation grant funding for the project brings together many of the nation’s leading criminal justice organizations to provide technical assistance and counsel to participating cities and counties.