The Other Montana
Billings, the state’s largest city with a population of just over 100,000, is a strategic location from which to explore the “other” Montana. Located in the southeastern section of the state that locals call “Custer Country,” Billings sits along the banks of the Yellowstone River and is ringed by sandstone bluffs called “The Rimrocks,” or, in native parlance, “The Rims.” The city is perhaps best described as “a big, small town,” in that, while not particularly large in either size or population, it’s citizens enjoy many of the amenities found in larger cities.
The Montana economy has remained relatively strong during the nation’s recent economic struggles. The same is true for Billings that is benefiting from energy resources from the Heath shale oil field to the north, and the Bakken oil field to the east. The city serves as the trade and distribution center for most of Montana, northern Wyoming, and the western portions of North and South Dakota, areas that are proving rich in energy resources.
The town is sometimes called the “Magic City,” a name that stems from its origin. When the Northern Pacific Railroad was evaluating the area for a station location in the late 1800s, people in the small town of Coulson were so certain of being chosen that they raised land prices to levels the railroad considered unreasonable. As a result, Northern Pacific President Frederick H. Billings built the railroad’s own town that seemed to “magically appear.”
Hence, the magic city of Billings.
What’s Doing in Billings
Billings boasts art galleries, museums, and several theatres. Live performances are scheduled throughout the year at the Alberta Bair Theater (www.albertabairtheater.org), a former Fox Theater that was refurbished and reopened in 1987. The Moss Mansion Historic House Museum (www.mossmansion.com) returns visitors to the early 1900s during an hour-long tour of the red sandstone home with original furnishings. The mansion was designed by the New York architect, Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, who also created the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.
Billings and the surrounding area support numerous markets, rodeos, fairs and festivals. Montana’s largest fair takes place here each August. The last weekend of the fair is accompanied by one of Montana’s largest professional rodeos (www.montanafair.com). Attend and be introduced to the fair goers’ favorite food, Viking on a Stick, that consists of a linear meatball coated with dough and deep fried. The result is a consumable with the appearance of a corndog on steroids. Check the Billings website noted below for a calendar of events during the period of your visit.
Sporting events take place throughout the year. Cincinnati Reds Pioneer League affiliate, the Billings Mustangs, play in newly constructed Dehler Park (www.billingsmustangs.com). The relatively short season generally begins in mid-June and ends in early September. The Billings Bulls hockey team, an affiliate of the Northern Pacific Hockey League, plays at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark (www.billingsbulls.com). The season runs from early October to early March. Rocky Mountain College (www.rocky.edu/athletics) and Montana State University Billings (www.MSUBSsports.com) each compete in a variety of sporting events during the school year.