Did you know Deer Lodge was once the prosperous center of a thriving economy? Main Street was bustling. It can be that again.
Deer Lodge has an impressive collection of assets that can be promoted to breathe life back into the local economy – the Grant-Kohrs Ranch, the museum complex, the restored Rialto, antique stores, beautiful historic structures, the Clark ForkRiver, and outdoor recreation. Its location couldn’t be more advantageous: located on Interstate 90, half way between two national parks, and on the Pintler Scenic Loop. Tourism is the number two industry in the state and Deer Lodge has built-in opportunity.
From my perspective, just one thing is missing: Hope. In conversations I have with people around town, repeatedly I hear this theme – the town is dying. Many businesses have closed in the past few years, with few coming in to replace them. This summer I began to despair that all of Deer Lodge is shuttering its businesses. It’s discouraging. But on the flip side, it may just be an opportunity. For existing businesses, what can be added to the current product line, now that an item is not available from a closing business? Where new businesses are needed, this may be an opportunity to re-create the Deer Lodge we would like to see. What do we need in town? What products and services are lacking here? What would we like to have in Deer Lodge if money were no object? It’s time to dream a little!
It also requires the participation of everyone in the community to re-build. It’s a big job and can seem daunting. But it can be done, with everyone finding a little bit of hope and sharing with others. Allow me to suggest a few ways to do that:
Know what’s happening in the community: Never have I seen a small community with so many events, activities, benefits, fundraisers, and entertainment opportunities. But if you don’t know about them, it’s easy to think nothing’s happening. Visit the Chamber, read the events calendar in the paper, pay attention to flyers in store windows, and listen to radio announcements to find out what’s happening and when. Then put it on your calendar and participate.
Encourage tourists to visit sites: When someone asks what there is to do in this town, know what’s happening (see previous point) and share that with them. Pause for a moment and…Encourage them to visit the Old Territorial Prison and stop by Pony Expresso for a latte. Tell them about the latest movie at newly restored Rialto and the amazing price of only $5 for admission. Suggest they get a sandwich at Yak Yak’s and then tour the Grant-Kohrs Ranch for a view into ranching life in the 1800’s.
Speak well of the town: Hope begets hope. Find Deer Lodge’s positive features and speak about them rather than the negative. Yes, there are weeds in the sidewalks and many storefronts sit empty, but there are some really wonderful things about this place. Look for them and then tell others. If you are having trouble seeing them, “Like” the Deer Lodge Development Group’s Facebook page which is updated daily with photos of beautiful vignettes found around town and inspirational quotes.
Deer Lodge is facing challenges right now, but Deer Lodge is poised for opportunity – great opportunity. We can all be a part of the solution, even if only in small ways. We must do this or we will be left with a shell of something that was “once a great town.” Deer Lodge can have a greater legacy.