Heritage commission oversight to remain unchanged

Following a tour of Virginia City last week a committee from the Montana Environmental Quality Council has elected to keep the Montana Heritage Commission and management of its historic resources with the Montana Department of Commerce.

Previous discussion within the legislature had suggested that the MHC and towns of Virginia and Nevada City be placed under the direction of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. This discussion resulted in three separate drafts of legislative bills that proposed administrative changes to the state parks system.

One bill would developed a commission for state parks, while another proposed that a newly formed parks commission be responsible for the administration of Virginia and Nevada Cities. The third draft bill proposed a Parks, Recreation and Heritage Board that would essentially absorb the MHC as an advisory council.

But once the committee came to Virginia City to see for themselves the living community and vibrant people working to keep it afloat they decided to keep the current administration system for Virginia and Nevada City in place, which is exactly what the community wanted, said MHC executive director Marilyn Ross.

“After much discussion they finally voted to move ahead with the bill that concerned only the parks, to leave the heritage commission alone, leave us where we are, and move forward just with their recommendation for the parks division and FWP,” Ross said.

The committee requested that EQC staff draft a study resolution to continue monitoring the progress of recent changes to the MHC and Virginia City administration over the next two years. This includes a detailed business plan presented by MHC Business and Development Manager Elijah Allen, who started in January.

Ross said the decision not to change the current MHC administration was aided by an overwhelming amount of support from the MHC, Virginia City Town Council and Chamber of Commerce, Madison County Commissioners as well as local residents and business owners.

“It was really gratifying to see that level of support from people to keep us in Commerce,” Ross said. “We heard the next day from the senators and representatives who had been there how much they appreciated it. They had learned so much, they had no idea the extent of the resource that we had.”

EQC chairman Sen. Jim Keane, D – Butte, was one member of the interim legislative committee who was influenced by what he heard and saw on the tour last week.

“The state has got a huge investment in that area,” Keane said. “We need to evaluate how the business plan is going, and I think then to see at what funding level it should be funded at the next legislature.”

Keane explained that only time will tell if Virginia City and Nevada City can be self sufficient under the direction of the Montana Heritage Commission.

“That’s why I think we want to at least have the EQC review what is happening,” he continued. “They are saying that their business plan is going to work, but if we don’t look at that we’ll never know if it is going to work.”

Ross emphasized the importance of having support from the local community for the current administration of Virginia City.

“The way everyone came together to work on this thing was absolutely so heartening,” Ross said. “I think it bodes very well for a future where we’re moving the whole resource forward in a way that’s going to be so much more beneficial for everyone involved.”

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