Sonoran director praises work of Beartooth forum

Luther Propst, co-founder and executive director of the Sonoran Institute, which promotes community decisions that respect the land and people of the West, recently wrote of the lessons learned from Red Lodge in a letter sent out to friends and associates.

In the letter Propst stated how “Red Lodge, with a proud, multi-ethnic mining heritage, has gracefully made the transition to a bustling New West community.”

The emergence of the Beartooth Front Community Forum in the early 1990s helped inspire the newly formed Sonoran Institute to “create or fortify similar groups in other communities around the Northern Rockies and the West,” wrote Propst.

“At the time, the Sonoran Institute was beginning to work in the Northern Rockies. In Jackson Hole we brought together a cross-section of the community at a Successful Communities Workshop to identify what they wanted to protect and to change and how they could achieve those goals. Folks in Red Lodge heard about this process and wanted to give it a try,” said Propst.

“In the early 1990s, it was becoming apparent that the region’s unique character and quality of life were threatened by dramatic growth. Quaint historic towns like Red Lodge, which boasts a ski hill, stunning public lands, and a major airport just up the road in Billings, were especially vulnerable,” he said.”Locals realized that if they didn’t craft their vision for the future, someone else would.”
“The rest is history,” Propst added, “Red Lodge’s Successful Communities event produced a vision that has been sustained, enhanced and, to a great degree, realized thanks to The Beartooth Front Community Forum, which was created during the process,” he said.

Propst wrote of the new master plan for Red Lodge which endorses walkability, historic preservation, main street renovation, and repair of crumbling infrastructure.

“A Boys and Girls Club was built, and successful open space conservation efforts were launched. Concerted efforts thwarted unanticipated threats to the integrity of the community, such as the Post Office’s proposed move from the town center to the outskirts. Red Lodge knows what it wants to be when it grows up – and its vision is ever evolving. Affordable housing is now a high priority of the Forum and the community,” Propst said.

“With lessons learned in Red Lodge,” the Sonoran Institute has helped many other around Montana, Idaho and even as far as Canmore, Alberta, Propst claimed.

The Sonoran Institute is presently investing in the future of the greater Bozeman area with the new Gallatin Area Planning (GAP) Grants, which has awarded $34,115 to 11 community projects in six counties. GAP grants are administered by the Institute’s Montana Smart Growth Coalition.

Propst praised the “very democratic Beartooth Front Community Forum” for its “tremendous impact on the still livable and lovable town of Red Lodge” since 1992.

“Seeing these community groups bring so much to fruition from a seed we planted is always educational – and satisfying – for us at the Sonoran Institute,” he added.

The Sonoran Institute can be found at or by calling (520) 290-0828.
For information on GAP grants contact Tim Davis at