In May, Alex Kim, founder of Here Montana, didn’t know what summer would bring for the group he started to support Missoula’s BIPOC community through outdoor activities.
Warm-weather opportunities were ripe for rebuilding, but the future of his organization seemed uncertain. Here, Montana broke away from Missoula Parks and Recreation in the spring, and Kim left his position with the city to run the new social enterprise full-time.
It was an exciting but also daunting change as Kim and his small team faced questions about funding, support and programming.
But now that Labor Day is over, Kim can look back with satisfaction on the first season of Here Montana as an independent entity.
“The summer was great,” he said on Thursday.
Here, Montana hired a grantee to support the organization’s program, formed partnerships with a variety of local outdoor groups, and created a consistent routine of recreational activities for participants.
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“It was really good,” Kim said.
Here, Montana hosted weekly rock climbing nights and local hikes, along with three rafting trips and three backcountry backpacking trips throughout the summer. Consistency was key to Here Montana’s success in the early stages of the organization’s independence.
“It’s really been an amazing thing to create a consistent program for people to participate in, and finding that consistency across our Mondays and Tuesdays has really been an amazing thing,” Kim said.
Kim and his team have recruited a mix of regulars and new attendees, but he said he doesn’t focus on tracking the number of people who show up to Here Montana events.
“It’s just about holding the space and having the space,” he explained.
Kim has seen several community benefits from founding Here Montana. The group provides a way to bring marginalized Missoulians into the great outdoors by providing equipment, mentoring, and camaraderie. But it also helps raise awareness of diversity in recreation when fellow outdoor enthusiasts see Here Montana participants by a river or on a trail.
For example, on one of the group’s summer backpacking trips, they remarked that they were the only people of color in the backcountry, and Kim said they take pride in their presence in a space that isn’t equally accessible by all demographics.
The autonomy of working as an independent social enterprise has played a big part in creating opportunities like this backpacking trip, Kim added.
Autonomy, from Kim’s perspective, “allows a community’s vision and goals to flourish without the pressure really from an external entity or someone outside of that organization. I think that was really, really wonderful.”
While autonomy is important to Here Montana, building partnerships has been equally important to the organization’s development.
Although Kim is disappointed that a collaboration with Missoula Parks and Recreation has fizzled out, he is grateful for the alliances the group has forged with others in the community.
Love Boat Paddle Co., Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation, Selway Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation, Freestone Climbing Gym; Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the US Forest Service have all teamed up to help Here Montana.
“All of these people were instrumental in getting us out there,” Kim said.
Here Montana is looking for more local partners, volunteers and donors to support the organization.
As the seasons change, Kim said Here Montana has a lot to look forward to.
Next week the group takes a bikepacking trip to the Rattlesnake Wilderness. As soon as the snow falls, they start snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. They look forward to exploring Glacier National Park in the winter and taking part in some downhill skiing around Missoula.
Kim plans to keep up with the weekly climbs and hikes during the winter as well.
“We might as well keep people active,” he said.
But his focus isn’t just on outdoor opportunities in and around Missoula. Kim’s long-term goal is to encourage outdoor recreation for BIPOC individuals across the state.
He believes Here Montana’s ability to become self-reliant can serve as a model for others to form groups that encourage underrepresented identities to get out there.
“It’s super possible,” he said.
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