WINNETT - Winnett, Montana — population 188 — is the seat of Petroleum County.
The quiet town is located about 52 miles east of Lewistown and 94 miles north of Billings. It is the seventh-least-populated county in the United States.
Surrounded by rolling hills of grassland, grazed by cattle, and ran by descendants of homesteaders — this community is being brought back to life.
Winnett ACES is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that is creating a desirable location for the next era of Winnett residents.
It began with the relocation of the Odd Fellows building — moved only about 100 yards west down Main Street, it now resides in its permanent location.
“It's a really cool thing when we all get together and have a common goal it seems like we can accomplish a lot and it's really fun. I mean, you're standing inside of something that is supposed to be torn down and you know, it's going to be pretty cool. It's going to have an ice cream machine… and coffee.” Told Brent Smith, General Coordinator, Winnett ACES at a community potluck meeting.
Tuesday night, the ACES invited residents and out of towners to a meeting explaining what the organization would be up to for the coming month. A turn out of about 50, all for the common goal; to rebuild the town they love.
“If businesses can grow on its own. Our own children didn't have this business, and we'd like it to be better than it was for them so that they would have things to do to keep them here. Not having to drive 50 miles to Lewistown.” Shared Diana Brady, a Winnett resident and committee member.
The Odd Fellows building is only one part of the big picture for this organization and community. It has hopes to become either a coffee shop or ice cream parlor. While utilizing the upstairs area for apartments that create more affordable housing to generate revenue for the town and county.
Discussed in the meeting was the team of youth conservationists who will be working closely with Winnett ACES to protect the grasslands that are vital to the planet’s health. Winnett ACES representatives explained that working with ranchers to properly graze in this region and aerate the land to keep this precious ecosystem healthy.
A solid percentage of the 50 in attendance were children. The future of the community is in the crosshairs for the younger generation, especially for mother of five Katie Lund.
“…For instance, if this is a coffee shop or an ice cream shop or what kind of kid doesn't love those types of things, you know? And to have something in this little, tiny town is awesome. And exciting.”
The Winnett ACES and community that surrounds them have their work cut out for them. The goal at the end of the day is to bring more visitors and provide community gathering spaces for those that live in the area.
To learn more or get involved, click here to visit the website.