From the Feb. 19, 2013 edition of the Billings Gazette
By Lorna Thackeray

Al Sargent, chairman of Hardin’s Little Bighorn Days Committee, can barely contain his enthusiasm.

Last summer the annual event commemorating the most storied battle of the Indian Wars experienced a revitalization that he is convinced will lead to even better things in 2013.

“Everything was up substantially last year,” he said. “One of the best things was the 1876 military ball. I’m gonna guess it was up four times over 2011. The church service on Sunday had 10 times the people.”

And the street dance featuring the Nelson Brothers, sons of Ricky Nelson of rock ‘n’ roll fame, drew a crowd of between 2,600 and 2,700 people, he said.

“The year before, it was 375 to 400,” Sargent estimated. “There is no question we’re getting it back together.”

His committee has signed Confederate Railroad, a county band popular in the 1990s, for the street dance during 2013 Little Bighorn Days.

A new marketing company is on board, and a new director has been hired to stage battle re-enactment performances, which have had a few rough years.

“This year we expect to double the crowd,” he said.

The committee has lined up the U.S. 7th Cavalry Color Guard from Colorado Springs to lead the 2013 parade, and arranged for a group of vintage Lamborghinis from California to follow. Twenty-five to 30 of the iconic sports cars will be on display in a roped-off section of Center Avenue for car enthusiast to ogle.

2012 was a good year for the tourism industry throughout Montana, industry officials say, and they expect at least some growth in 2013.

Preliminary data indicate tourism numbers swelled 3 percent in 2012 with a 15 percent increase in what they spent, said Sarah Lawlor of the Montana Tourism office.

“That’s really encouraging,” she said. “We’re hoping more of the same in 2013.”

The University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research projects a 2 percent growth in out-of-state visitors and a 4 percent increase in their spending. That’s slightly ahead of the 1.2 percent increase in travelers and 3 percent increase in spending that the U.S. Travel Association predicts for the country as a whole.

It’s hard to exaggerate the importance of tourism to Montana’s economy. Recently, UM reported that about 11 million nonresident visitors spent $3.19 billion in the state during 2012. Travel-related businesses purchased another $813 million worth of goods and services and 41,070 people employed directly or indirectly in the tourism industry spent $708 million of their paychecks here.

Not bad for a state with a population of a little over 1 million people.

The rebound from the Great Recession of 2008 has been slow, but evidence of progress was everywhere for Montana tourism in 2012.

All six Montana tourism regions saw increased visitation. In a survey of industry-related businesses conducted by UM, 61 percent reported increases, 19 percent had decreases and 20 percent stayed the same as 2011.

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