SEELEY LAKE – Over 12 million non-residents visited Montana in 2016, according to survey data from the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research.
Seeley Lake is home to a unique winter sports attraction that drives in people from across the US and Canada.
Volunteer referee Kina Kuhn says the annual Seeley Lake Pond Hockey Tournament brings visitors and commerce to the area.
“Families, older people, younger people, kids, pets, it’s just an awesome, awesome place, it’s great for Seeley Lake. It brings in a lot of people to an amazing community.”
Tourists spend over $3 billion in Montana every year, according to data from the ITRR.
“Between the fires and the weather and different things tourism has been… rough, rough the past few years,” Kuhn said. “Things like this are great because this is an awesome community.”
Kuhn has a family cabin in Seeley Lake has been volunteering since the start.
The Rice Ridge Fire in 2017 burned over 100,000 acres right outside of Seeley Lake, forcing 1,000 homes and businesses to evacuate.
The pond hockey tournament website says it started seven years ago to bring crowds to town during the offseason.
Hockey player Dane Alford said his family made competing a tradition last year after watching from the sidelines.
“A couple of em come up and watch always so they got us all together. Last year we played and had fun so now it’s just what we do.”
Ten teams from all over the US and Canada skated and slipped through the weekend.
The funds raised by the event are split between Seeley Lake Elementary kinetic sports programs and the Missoula Area Youth Hockey Association.
-Katie Miller reporting for MTN News