By Justin Franz, 2-13-12
||Caption: Vehicles travel down Mineral Avenue in Libby. - File photo Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
Local officials and businesspeople gathered last month for an informal meeting about the economic climate in Lincoln County. Although it wasn’t the only topic, tourism came up most often. The meeting, held in Libby on Jan. 24, was an informal follow up to an ice cream social the city hosted last summer, according to Libby City Councilor Robin Benson.
The meeting, Benson said, produced a gamut of ideas to attract more visitors to the economically struggling northwest corner of the state. As of December 2011, Lincoln County had the highest jobless rate in Montana, at 15.5 percent.
Alana Mesenbrink works at the Libby Dam and serves on the board for both the Lincoln County Tourism Board and Glacier Country Montana project. She said Lincoln County’s scenery rivals that of the surrounding area and more tourists would visit if locals worked together to promote it.
“I think some of the things that drive tourism for us is that we’re rich, raw and remote,” she said. “We have some areas just as pristine as Glacier National Park, except when you come here you’re not elbow to elbow with people.”
According to Mesenbrink, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Lincoln County is the massive Libby Dam, located on the Kootenai River. During an average year about 130,000 people visit the dam area, making it the 10th most popular attraction in the state. Mosenbrink said the dam will be one of 50 spots featured in an upcoming brochure promoting the area.
Promotional material, signage and marketing were just a few ideas that were floated during the Jan. 24 meeting. One possibility, Benson said, would be buying billboard space in the Coeur D’Alene, Idaho area promoting the “scenic route” to Glacier National Park, by way of U.S. Highway 2, rather than south on Interstate 90. Another sign, which could go up sooner, would be placed on Highway 37, just north of downtown Libby, which would direct traffic through Mineral Avenue and the heart of downtown.
Libby Mayor Doug Roll said the town is “sort of a pass through community,” but more signage and marketing, even locally at gas stations where travelers stop for snacks and fuel, could help. Roll said the job of promoting the area doesn’t lie with the city – its concerns are still the basics: services and infrastructure – but it will do what it can to help, including keeping downtown Libby a welcoming place. The job of promoting the town lies largely with the Libby Chamber of Commerce and its new executive director Shanda Jennings.
Jennings has held the position since Jan. 3. She said last month’s meeting produced a lot of great ideas and while scenery and the outdoors may be some of the area’s biggest attractions, she also wants to promote one that may have been overlooked: the locals.
“My feeling is that friendly is free,” she said. “People will walk into a business and later they’ll remember how friendly people are here.”
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