WHITEFISH - We are at peak tourism season across Montana and Whitefish is as busy as ever and feeling the impact on traffic, housing and parking.
But there will be a chance for residents to have a say in the next Sustainable Tourist Management Plan.
“So, the Sustainable Tourism Management Plan is really designed to be a resource for the City of Whitefish and Explore Whitefish, our tourism bureau, really as a guide that helps them understand our residents' priorities when it comes to environmental and social issues. And while also weighing that, with the benefits of visitation to our economy and our community, with the ultimate goal of preserving livability in our town,” said Sustainable Tourist Management Plan Committee member Ella Kobelt.
The first Sustainable Tourist Management Plan came out in 2019. The point of the plan is to ensure the community character, livability and community engagement are not impaired by tourism. But with the influx of people and the change in tourism since COVID-19, the committee decided it was time to revise the plan.
Traffic, parking, housing and overcrowding of outdoor recreation areas are some of the concerns — but tourism benefits the businesses in Whitefish.
“And that is a balancing act that we have to do with an area like this and that is what brought a lot of those new residents here is the beauty of the area. So we try to just deal with it very positively. We try to give them a great experience while they're here,” said Axehead owner Trina Larson.
Once the survey is complete, residents can expect to see changes in the way Explore Whitefish promotes responsible tourism such as the Be a Friend of the Fish campaign to promote responsible recreation.
“I grew up in Whitefish, I love it here. I see a lot of these challenges with visitation, housing and congestion but I also recognize how important visitation is for our economy. So I'm really interested in how we can prioritize sustainability from an environmental and social standpoint, while also continuing to welcome people to our town and making sure that it's a place that people enjoy visiting and can also live in long term,” said Kobelt.
It is a tricky job to manage the balance between tourism and long-term residents but with the help of this survey, it will be easier to see just what the people in Whitefish need without hurting the economy that is fueled by tourism.
“But again, that's our lifeblood as businesses, so without that bloodline, you wouldn't have all these great restaurants and stores to go to here,” said Larson
People who are residents, part-time residents, employees and business owners in Whitefish can click here to find the survey through Sept. 15, 2023.