HISTORY OF THE FORUM
In 1992, many residents of Red Lodge, Montana, sensed that changes were afoot. The town was beginning to grow, awakening from a decades-long recession. While many were excited about the arrival of money and development, others feared erosion of small-town traditions. Folks from all walks of life started meeting for small-group discussions, which grew into a community-wide event called the Beartooth Front Community Forum.
Despite differences in politics, backgrounds, and outlooks, the event’s participants discovered they held similar attitudes about what they valued in their small town. Broad consensus emerged especially on a few key issues: land-use planning, clean water, and young people. Participants decided to form an organization to pursue projects that would retain and enhance those values in the face of growth and change, and named the organization after the original event.
Through the 1990s and 2000s, the Red Lodge area did indeed grow and change. The Beartooth Front Community Forum (BFCF) sought to help locals understand and influence those changes, so as not to be overwhelmed by outside forces. BFCF sought to further empower the already-effective nonprofit and government sectors of the community. As an issue or challenge was identified, BFCF often incubated and “spun off” new organizations to address those challenges. BFCF chose to operate as a meeting-point, discussion forum, and catalyst, rather than building its own staff.
BFCF continues to operate with a flexible structure, with power vested in task forces that address specific issues. Although BFCF's board has ultimate responsibility for the organization's direction, it is more commonly called the "steering committee," reflecting its role in coordinating rather than dictating to task forces.
BFCF’s projects over those years — leading to accomplishments such as the first-ever city master land use plan, establishment of a local Boys and Girls Club, a bearproof garbage container rental program, keeping the post office downtown, and incubation of a half-dozen other local nonprofits — are discussed under accomplishments.