Wolf Point residents bitter over museum reversal
WOLF POINT — The sign along U.S. Highway 2 proclaiming Wolf Point the official home of the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame has become a bitter reminder to residents of this northeastern Montana town of what might have been.
The Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame & Western Heritage Center announced last Monday that Big Timber has been selected as the new home for the hall of fame, a decision that reverses the state Legislature's 2003 designation of Wolf Point as the site.
AP Photo/Jeff Tucker
This photo provided by Jeff Tucker shows the former site of the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame in Wolf Point. The Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame & Western Heritage Center announced last Monday that Big Timber had been selected as the new home for the hall of fame, a decision that reverses the state Legislature's 2003 designation of Wolf Point as the museum site. The announcement has left residents here fuming.
Wolf Point donated 29 acres to build the museum in 2005, but only the highway sign gave any indication of what was to be developed there. Sentiment grew among the hall of fame's board of directors that the small town in the rural corner of the state might not be able to support a large facility, leading lawmakers last year to pass another bill that reopened bids.
The site-selection process came to a head Monday with the announcement that the hall of fame would be located in a Big Timber building along the high-traffic corridor of Interstate 90 that already has the necessary infrastructure.
"This is truly a project whose time has come," said board member Mike Gurnett. "With this great central I-90 location, I can envision the parking lot filled with school buses from across the state as students explore Montana's Western heritage."
The decision isn't sitting well with Wolf Point residents.
"This community has been working on getting the cowboy hall of fame here for the last 10 to 15 years," said Wolf Point business owner and resident Don Tomsic. "They've put all the work into it as far as securing a location and architect renderings and everything else. A lot of time and effort and money has been put into it by the local community here to have it stolen away from us."
Another resident, Brian Berreth, was even more direct.
"They cheated Wolf Point out of it," he said. "They promised it and took it away."
Wolf Point, Big Sky, Big Timber, Livingston, Madison County and Miles City were selected as finalists by an evaluation committee of the hall of fame's board members after a 10-month site selection process. The selections were based on the infrastructure and capacity of each community to sustainably operate a visitor attraction.
Miles City dropped out of the running in December. Then Wolf Point was disqualified when a local committee did not submit a memorandum of understanding by an April 20 deadline following a 10-month building site selection process.
Duane Kurokawa, president of the Missouri Valley Development Corp., said in a March 22 letter that the documents the hall of fame board asked for were irrelevant because Wolf Point had already been selected as the site and the land had already been donated.
"Unfortunately we were unable to evaluate the Wolf Point building site because the Wolf Point proposer chose not to complete the request for proposals process as outlined in the original RFP issued in June," said Aaron Lyles, finance director of the MCHF & WHC. "We encouraged them to complete the process, but in the end it was the proposer's choice not to proceed for consideration."
Kurokawa has said Wolf Point is an ideal location for a museum honoring cowboy traditions, considering the area's Western history and heritage and location on an Indian reservation.
"I hope it works for Big Timber," Kurokawa said. "I really do hope they can put something together."
Lyles said the hall of fame's board will return the 29 acres to the Wolf Point Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture.
Roosevelt County Commissioners previously allocated $10,000 to the hall of fame, $3,800 of which has been spent on operating expenses. Lyles said the commissioners must formally request a refund to get that money back.