Of Sage & Stone: Back Roads Guide to Southwest Montana Heritage & Culture
Since 2006, Montana Preservation Alliance has partnered with businesses, local government, economic development and tourism interests to promote heritage development in Southwest Montana, a historic region of our state whose economy has been depressed for a substantial period of time. Our work in this area began with a small grant from the National Park Service (NPS) to help communities of Southwest Montana expand their economies through tourism. The first phase of this project resulted in publication of a guidebook entitled Of Sage and Stone: A Guide to Southwest Montana’s Rural Treasures. The guide featured cultural sites, fine crafts, and locally owned businesses along a tourism corridor with four driving loops in Southwest Montana. A promotional brochure was circulated widely through venues in the region and especially at the National Folk Festival in Butte. Two years later, the brochure was updated, reprinted and again distributed at museums, visitor centers and special events in the region. A very basic website was also created at the time, with the understanding that future funding would enable a more sophisticated site to be designed, to market the heritage businesses and historic downtowns that are the hub of local economies in this part of Montana.
Phase II was funded by the MTOT Tourism e-Marketing Technology grant in 2013. Under this phase of the project we expanded and enhanced the website, www.ofsageandstone.com. The update included a total redesign of the website layout, but maintained the familiar Of Sage & Stone logo and look from the original book. Each business or organization listing now includes hyperlinks to their website and a link to Google maps with driving directions right on the page, as well as multiple photos and even videos if provided. A companion iPhone app was also added for easy access on the go. iPhone users can easily navigate the listings on the phone, access Google maps and door-to-door directions from the app, and use the “Call” feature for one-tap calling to the listed business.
These improvements have allowed us to further expand our outreach and direct heritage travelers to the unique and remarkable cultural tourism opportunities throughout Southwest Montana. By increasing heritage tourism specifically, we hope to increase awareness of the importance of revitalizing and preserving a wide range of resources, from downtown storefronts to residential districts and rural ranches.
Partners. Our partners in this effort are primarily the communities and businesses in the region, who have eagerly participated and helped promote this project. MPA partnered with the Beaverehead County Museum, Philipsburg Chamber of Commerce, and First Madison Valley bank to hold information meetings about the new Of Sage & Stone expansion. These meetings were instrumental in raising awareness, building interest, and informing local businesses and organizations about the benefits of being part of the website and app. And, since 2006 we have worked closely with the Southwest Country tourism group (formerly Goldwest Country) to dovetail and build on their efforts.
Benefits. Fifty-plus local businesses and growing have directly benefited from greater, more interactive access to information, driving directions, and on-the-go promotion of their businesses. The website and iPhone app highlights 12 rural Montana towns so far, bringing new attention and visitors to places that have been economically challenged for decades. Because this project focuses on cultural heritage, fine arts, and rural experiences unique to Montana, it brings much-needed attention to the small, family-owned businesses who often struggle most to make their advertising dollar go furthest.