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In Bigfork, An Eventful Community Builds Its Brand
Chamber of Commerce welcomes new president who hopes to help boost the town’s unique identity
Bigfork’s new Chamber of Commerce president, Heather Burnham, and former president Bruce Solberg are pictured. - Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon
BIGFORK — What’s on the calendar for Bigfork in 2014?


The tight-knit community hugging the northern banks of Flathead Lake is poised for a big year, not just a big summer. As the tourism industry increasingly becomes a tent-pole across Northwest Montana, efforts and organizations are focused on shrinking the so-called shoulder season and building Bigfork’s brand as a destination full of events.

If last year was any indicator, then the momentous streak should only keep expanding over the next 12 months.

“This last summer was really, really good. In fact it was one of the best summers we’ve had in quite awhile,” said Bruce Solberg, the outgoing executive director of the Bigfork Area Chamber of Commerce.

Solberg recently handed over the reins to Heather Burnham, the new executive director of the chamber, which has more than 350 members spanning the valley. Burnham, who moved here nearly four years ago from Salt Lake City, is hoping to build on Solberg’s and others’ work to promote Bigfork and aid economic development. She said one of her top goals is to increase the number of year-round festivities on Electric Avenue and throughout the surrounding area.

“The initial goal is to continue what we’ve been doing, which is focusing on increasing tourism, which in turn also increases business revenue for all of our members here,” Burnham said last week from inside the Chamber headquarters off Montana Highway 35. “We want to continue highlighting Bigfork and increase the awareness of all the things we have to offer here.”

There’s plenty to tout. While Bigfork was traditionally known as a lakeside attraction in the summer months, the community has furnished an array of year-round events that cater to both local residents and out-of-town visitors. The town has established a solid list of mainstay festivals for the entire Flathead Valley, including the downtown brewfest in March, the Taste of Bigfork in early May and the Whitewater Festival at the end of May, the Festival of the Arts in early August and the Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival in late August.

The list goes on. There’s also the widely popular Montana Dragon Boat Festival and Spartan Race, two signature events that attract thousands of out-of-market visitors to the Flathead.

“Each year is really getting better than the last and we are noticing that our season is expanding, where it’s not just July and August anymore,” Burnham said.

“That’s something we will always have to work on but it’s definitely gotten better.”

Bigfork is adding another noteworthy event to the calendar in the fall called the Chalk and Rock Festival. The new two-day event will draw street artists from across the region who design vast pieces of artwork on the town’s streets amid live music and other festivities.

The chamber is helping support the event financially and seeking other ways to offer incentives for new events or businesses looking to lay roots in town.

As executive director, Burnham also hopes to lure small businesses that could set up shop locally and fit into Bigfork’s identity.

“We certainly don’t want to turn into a large city by any means, but we have room for smaller businesses,” she said, adding, “Our goal is for businesses, but it’s really about supporting the community as a whole. Everybody contributes to our town. We really consider ourselves a town of volunteers.”
On 01-18-14, Fast commented....
Bigfork is great place to live. But Bigfork has eaten millions of dollars ( like many resort towns ) over the last 20 years. I seen millionaire’s turn million’s of dollars to penny’s on the dollar in a short time. Again don’t get me wrong it’s…
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