Hot Springs doesn't have much of a tourist draw—except for maybe the warm mineral baths at Symes Hot Springs Hotel and Resort. The western Montana hamlet (pop. 564) sits a few miles off Highway 28, well off the beaten path for travelers through the Flathead Valley. Only residents and dedicated soakers would really call it a destination.
Mayor Randy Woods is hoping paintball will change that. Last month, Hot Springs applied for a $54,701 grant from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to construct a shooting sports complex at the town's former landfill. The proposal includes a rifle range, archery course and sizeable paintball and airsoft field that Woods hopes will attract visitors from larger communities.
"I wanted it to be a productive piece of property for the town," Woods says of the 40-acre parcel that would house the facility. "What it kept coming back to was this area doesn't have a shooting range, and I'm always looking for something not really gun related but for something for people to come here and do, to bring tourism here."
Hot Springs Zoning Compliance Officer Bill Rosler says the town will likely turn to teams from former paintball operations in Polson to design the new course, and smaller grants and private donations from community members could help address additional funding needs for equipment and amenities. The public comment period for the project's environmental assessment ends July 30.
FWP operates an annual grant program for sports shooting projects, but the Hot Springs project stands out. Shooting Range Coordinator Kurt Cunningham says it's the first time the agency has reviewed a request with a paintball component, and adds most requests come from private clubs, not municipal governments.
"They're trying to get a place where people can shoot safely," Cunningham says, "and it's been my experience in other projects that some of these small communities really benefit a lot from a project of this nature."
The shooting complex, which Woods hopes to have completed by October, is the first in a series of civic improvements that will not only give people a reason to visit Hot Spring but give locals more recreational opportunities. Woods says the city has discussed the potential for a small skatepark as well as a splash deck.
"Honestly, I don't foresee people coming and staying here for a week and hanging out," Woods says. "But maybe we can be that destination point for that Saturday afternoon."