Billings TrailNet Strategic Plan
This planning document outlines the history of the organization, its mission, vision, and the guiding strategic priorities as identified by the Board of Directors for the next two years. The purpose of strategic planning process and the priorities developed from the process is to create a guiding document for focusing the organization on goals and allows board and staff to develop plans that will work toward meeting those goals.
A strategic plan is an evolving document that is reviewed and revised on a regular basis. It serves as a guide for future focus of the organization and allows the organization to be proactive instead of engaging in tasks randomly. The strategic plan directs the allocation of organizational resources toward achieving those priorities. Creating, maintaining, and revising the strategic plan also enables the organization to measure its progress and success. It is recommended that the plan be reviewed annually to assure priorities continue to be in alignment. Every two years, the board and staff should conduct a more in-depth planning session to evaluate the priorities and determine shifts needed in organizational priorities.
On February 12, 2022, Billings TrailNet Board and staff met to consider the direction of the organization over the next two to three years. Billings TrailNet has been a driving force in the promotion and development of a multi-use trail system in the Billings area. The lists of accomplishments offered by board and staff prior to the session were comprehensive and remarkable. The list of additional desired objectives was just as impressive. In short, this is an organization with extraordinary accomplishments and grand plans – exactly the type of people needed to tackle such an important mission.
This session was an initial step toward clarifying three primary strategic priorities for Billings TrailNet to work toward over the next couple of years and determine what this organization wants to do; how will it accomplish the goals; and how will it measure progress.
Billings TrailNet has done a lot, continues to do a lot, and wants to do more. The purpose of this plan is to refine the focus on three chosen goals – not ignore the rest but elevate these goals to provide better focus and direction.
The process used to develop the priorities included looking at the organization’s current mission and vision. An exercise was conducted to identify community partner organizations and recognize their efforts that support their work, determine how best to collaborate effectively and to promote working relationship to enhance their efforts.
Board and staff reviewed the roles and responsibilities of the board, board committees, and staff.
Facilitators Thom MacLean and Dianne Lehm provided an overview of strategic planning, the purpose, process and goal. What is strategic planning? Strategic planning is a systematic process that embraces defining strategic objectives, short, medium and long-term goals and actions to achieve them.
It generally starts with strategic statements, and an organization’s vision and mission.
5 Steps of the Strategic Planning Process
- Determine the organization’s strategic mission/vision.
- Prioritize the organization’s objectives.
- Develop the strategic plan.
- Adopt, execute and manage the plan.
- Review and revise the plan yearly.
Strategic plans are not inflexible documents. Rather, they are living documents. Internal and external environments change and circumstances can be unforseen. Revisiting, modifying, and updating will always be necessary.
Benefits of use in grant writing, fundraising, friend-raising, sponsorships, education
- Grant writing: Funders look to see if the organization has a sound strategic plan that aligns well with the funder’s mission. It gives the funder assurance that the organization has a sound operating guide.
- Fundraising: Donors look to support organizations that are well-thought out and have a strong board of directors. Showing the organization is doing thoughtful work give them confidence in the organization’s ability to carry out the mission and projects.
- Friend-raising: Individuals will seek out organizations that match their values. It’s a marketing tool to show the organization’s intentions. By providing a strategic plan with a mission, vision and priorities the organization will attract additional supporters, volunteers, and advocates.
- Sponsorships: Corporations may ask for the organization’s strategic plan as part of their review process. An up to date, well developed plan will earn higher considerations for giving.
- Education: The strategic plan functions as an education piece that conveys the purpose and background of the organization to educate the public. It also serves as marketing tool.
A survey conducted prior to strategic planning provided a starting point to address key themes. The results revealed a large list of projects, ideas and opinions. The list was broad and long. As the planning process continued the board and staff was asked to consider what surprised them, identify missing elements, and determine if the list was achievable and realistic. Furthermore, they were asked if there were additional extra tools required.
Utilizing SMART goals the board groups were asked to discuss the big themes heard and their relationship to the organization’s mission and vision.
Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely
Thank you to the Board of Directors and staff of Billings TrailNet for giving your time and expertise to develop a new strategic plan. We certainly appreciate working with the organization and the individuals dedicated to seeing a bright future for trails in Billings and Yellowstone County.
Since 1996, The City of Billings has been developing multiuse trails. The trail system has grown steadily with the help of Billings TrailNet, and within 20 years, had built more than 50 miles of shared use paths.
- 1994 The City of Billings created a trail plan and called it the “BikeNet Plan,” and shortly thereafter, the nonprofit BikeNet was created to help with funding.
- 1996 The first trail to be built from the BikeNet plan was the Kiwanis Trail using federal grant money plus local donations.
- The Federal Community Transportation Enhancement Program was the major source of funding the City of Billings used to develop trails.
- 1999 Voters passed a General Obligation Bond which gave $600,00 to trails and $1M for parks.
- 2000 After a few big trails were built with the bond money, Ales for Trails was created to raise more local money.
- The first Ales for Trails was a bikes-and-brews fundraiser, and committee member Mike Tuss came up with the name, “Ales for Trails.” It started under Skypoint with a few hundred people and a few thousand dollars raised
- 2003 BikeNet gave its first donation of $5,000 to help build the Descro Park Trail.
- By 2008 Billings had 35 miles of trails
- Bike/ped interest and trails make big advances in 2009:
- The Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) was established to advise local elected officials about issues related to walking biking and rolling; and the BikeNet plan was updated and renamed the Heritage Trail Plan.
- Billings Public Works developed a multiuse path along Zimmerman Trail as it enhanced the road.
- Trail use counters were place on trails to gather valuable data. There was an average 102 trail users per day.
- Billings Chamber of Commerce championed trails and came up with the concept of The Marathon Loop. The Chamber made “Trails” a strategic priority and established the Chamber Trails Committee.
- 2010 Ales for Trails grew large enough to hire a coordinator to run the event. The board of directors hired grad student, Kristi Drake to run the event. She moved Ales from The Depot to Dehler Park. That year, Ales for Trails raised $49,000.
- 2011 New bike/ped policies were enacted in the city.
- The Complete Streets Policy advised the city to add nonmotorized transportation facilities when feasible during road construction or reconstruction.
- The Heritage Trail Plan was also updated again and renamed Billings Area Bikeway and Trail Master Plan.
- 2012 BikeNet hired its first Executive Director. She was to manage Ales for Trails and start a membership program. (Popup graphic: Ales for Trails raised $58,000)
- 2013 BikeNet hired a second full time employee to promote active transportation: AmeriCorps member, Elyse Monat.
- Membership income jumped from $10 for the year to $12,000 when the membership program was introduced.
- BikeNet formed a Trail Development Committee to identify which trails their members wanted to develop, and BikeNet also initiated the Commuter Challenge in partnership with City County Planning and Healthy by Design.
- 2014 BikeNet partnered with Public Works to encourage safe & friendly biking/driving interactions. Members were featured in the ads.
- 2015 BikeNet changed its name to Billings TrailNet to be more representative of the organization’s mission.
- 2016 Billings TrailNet devised a plan to build the Skyline Trail.
- Ales for Trails raised $82,000.
- Outside Magazine declared Billings as the Best Town in America!
- Billings TrailNet created a second event with the intention of encouraging bike riding, especially to women. The event is called the Tour de Fleur and is produced eveyry spring.
- 2017 Billings TrailNet hired a second employee to coordinate Ales for Trails, the membership program and volunteers
- BTN also paid for the engineering of the Skyline Trail.
- Ales for Trails raised $91,000
- 2018 Billings TrailNet installed a restroom at Zimmerman Park.
- 2019 The first section of the Skyline Trail at Zimmerman Park was paved; a pedestrian underpass was built under Zimmerman Trail and an interpretive sign was installed.
- A big gift from a donor, Dick Charbonneau, provided groundbreaking trail progress and another section of the Skyline Trail was built. Billings TrailNet also pursued public funding for trails and safe routes to school.
- The Covid pandemic had a major effect on trails. While the city’s trail network had grown to 50 miles, it also saw double the trail use.
- 2020 Billings counted 127 trail users per day on the trails and Billings TrailNet hosted a virtual Ales for Trails.
- 2021 Billings was awarded a $23 million grant to build a skyline Trail and Innerbelt loop. Billings TrailNet celebrated its 20th ales for trails and began visioning the next big trail
- 2022 Through generous donations by individuals and our fundraisers like Ales for Trails, Billings TrailNet has contributed more than $750,000 to the City of Billings for trails and trail amenities
- Most trails in Billings were built prior to 2012, by federal transportation funding designated for non-motorized transportation. The program was called CTEP: (Community Transportation Enhancement Program)
- Billings TrailNet operates like a foundation by raising funds and giving them to the City of Billings to support funding gaps or required matching dollars for trail building
- Trails now are funded by:
- federal grants
- some trails paid by property taxes during street maintenance and development
- The trail system is called the Heritage Trail System
- Billings TrailNet does not own the trails or the land the trails are on. Most are on public right-of-way or in parks.
- Billings TrailNet does not physically build trails with volunteers. The City of Billings does the trail building.
- Billings TrailNet does not decide where the trails go; the City of Billings plans where trails go.
- There is a trail plan called The Billings Area Bikeway and Trails Master Plan. It can be accessed by the public on the city of Billings’ website at https://ci.billings.mt.us/DocumentCenter/View/34091/Billings-Bikeway-and-Trails-Master-Plan
- The Marathon Loop is a 26.2 mile loop around the city which will be about 80% complete as soon as the Skyline Trail is constructed. The Marathon Loop includes the Shiloh Trail on the west end, the Swords Park Trail on the north end, the Jim Dutcher Trail on the east side, and Riverfront Park on the south side.
- The Skyline Trail will extend the Swords Park trail all the way to Zimmerman Trail.
- The next big trail in our radar is the Stagecoach Trail, which would get people from Rimrock Road to Highway 3, so they can enjoy Zimmerman Park and the entire beautify of the rims.
- Connecting the Marathon Loop around the city will provide great access to the trail system all over the city
- We must have amenities to attract and retain residents
Billings TrailNet, (formerly BikeNet) is a non-profit, 501c3, grass-roots organization that supports urban trails in and around the Billings community. The organization advocates to enhance the existing trail network and to expand that network to provide better connections throughout Billings – increasing recreational opportunities and transportation options. Billings TrailNet is a source of consistent messaging to federal, state, and local leaders on the importance of multimodal trails for health and safety, the economy, the environment, and the overall quality of life. Through public campaigns and with events like Ales for Trails and the Tour de Fleur, Billings TrailNet increases awareness and encourages use of the trails in our community and raises money to use as matching funds for trail planning and development.
Billings TrailNet is managed by 12 Board of Directors and two staff members.
To promote a complete, community-wide trail system.
The Billings area is a premier community for healthy lifestyles, where active transportation and recreation are safe and integral parts of everyday activity.
There is no local public funding dedicated to building trails. Unlike streets and sidewalks which are simply built into a city, most trails in Billings are not provided by taxpayer dollars. If we don’t have money for trails, we don’t get connections to neighborhoods, parks, or businesses.
Since 2002, Billings TrailNet has raised more than $1M to promote trails in Billings and has given the city more than $757,000 for trails.
Most 10 foot-wide multiuse paved trails cost approximately $350,000 per mile to build. But the Skyline Trail is more like $1 million per mile because of its unique topographical features. There are three coulees to traverse, which require expensive retaining walls on either side of the trail, and pedestrian guardrails for safety.
Billings TrailNet seeks to:
- Increase the amount and connectivity of trails and bikeways.
- Influence community’s views about trails so they see trails as necessary to everyday life and considered a primary part of infrastructure.
- Promote the increased use of trails and an active lifestyle.
- Develop and encourage community collaboration on active transportation.
- Support the maintenance of trails system.
- Grow Billings TrailNet’s identity.
- Develop and expand the organization
- ADVOCATE FOR AND SUPPORT PURSUIT OF DEDICATED PUBLIC FUNDING FOR TRAILS
- Investigate dedicated funding sources to determine which to pursue
- Participate in and monitor the mill levy/ballot issue discussion to ensure dedicated funding source for trails is included. If there is not, determine if we want to participate
- Determine Billings TrailNet’s role in the grant writing process and pursue grants when deemed appropriate by executive committee/board of directors
- Advocate to appropriate powers for selected funding source we determine to pursue
- DEVELOP AND IMPLEMENT A PLAN DEDICATED TO RAISING PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR TRAILS
- Build relationships with stakeholder groups and broaden our reach by expanding stakeholders to identified partners.
- Continue Ales for Trails, Tour de Fleur and add three events
- Implement marketing campaign
- PLAN AND DEVELOP SUSTAINABLE OPERATIONS FUNDING
- Determine clearly defined membership goals
- Clearly define member levels and member benefits (explore tiered level membership program & benefits)
Big Sky Economic Development
City of Billings
Mayor and Council
Parks and Recreation
Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee
Downtown Billings Alliance
Yellowstone River Parks Association
Saint Vincent Healthcare
Billings Area Realtors
Architects & Engineers
Healthy by Design
Friends of Billings Dog Parks
Living Independently for Today & Tomorrow (LIFTT)
State of Montana
Dept of Transportation
Fish, Wildlife, and Parks
Bureau of Land Management
County Parks Department
Partners for Parks Foundation
Adult Resource Alliance
Bike Walk Montana
Roles and Responsibilities
Board Member Responsibilities:
Board Members set the direction, vision, mission and strategic priorities of the organization while being fiscally responsible with organizational resources. Each member is responsible to oversee the overall operations, health and wellbeing of the organization.
Specifically, each board member is expected to:
- Assure that resources and structures are in place to accomplish Billings TrailNet’s mission and goals. This includes making operational policies, supporting planning and goal setting efforts, setting and monitoring a realistic budget, consistently attending Board and Committee meetings, etc.
- Assist the Board in carrying out its fiduciary responsibilities with utmost integrity.
- Support and articulate Billings TrailNet’s mission accurately and effectively. This includes staying informed about Billings TrailNet’s programs and keeping up to date on community transportation and trails issues.
- Volunteer on at least one of Billings TrailNet’s program committees (Events, Fundraising, Future Projects or Advocacy)
In addition, each board member agrees to:
- Hold Billings TrailNet accountable by listening to constituents and sharing their views back to the Board.
- Pay annual membership dues and make an additional personally meaningful financial contribution to Billings TrailNet.
- Attend regularly scheduled board meetings, special meetings, the Annual Meeting, and any scheduled Board training sessions.
- Keep confidential information confidential.
- Exercise authority as a Board member only when acting in a meeting with the full Board or as the Board delegates.
Board members serve on the board for a two-year term.
Appendix- Board of Directors
Kolten Knatterud- President, Future Projects Committee Chair
Kolten Knatterud is a dynamic Professional Engineer and Partner with IMEG Corp, an engineering design firm that offers comprehensive technical expertise and collaborative partnerships.
Kolten enjoys working on issues that impact the community, both from a private and government perspective, taking great pride in being part of the solution. Kolten is a dedicated team member and community contributor who participates on the Billings Home Builders Board of Directors, Montana Building Industry Association Board of Directors, and Billings TrailNet Board of Directors.
Kolten assisted with the grant funding applications for Clark’s Crossing and the Western Sugar Easement to enhance the trail system along the Yellowstone River. In addition to this work, he has participated on the Billings Chamber Trails Committee and was a previous Billings Chamber Board Director.
Joe Womack- Treasurer
Joe Womack is Billings TrailNet’s treasurer, and is the owner of Womack & Associates, a law firm in Billings specializing in bankruptcy and debt.
Joe and his family enjoy outdoor activities and also support the trail system as a corporate member of Billings TrailNet.
Kevin Odenthal- Events Chair
Kevin Odenthal has been on the Billings TrailNet board of Directors since 2014. He has been the event coordinator for our biggest fundraiser, Ales for Trails; works with the City/County Planning and Engineering Departments to get more bicycle parking in the City of Billings, and has installed many of the bike staples downtown at Metra Park. Kevin is also on the City of Billings Parking Advisory Board, is on the ad hoc Kids In Motion Bike Repair Trailer advisory board, and has helped to provide volunteers for the repair clinics that are put on by the Kids In Motion program. Kevin works at Northwest Scientific and is a former co-owner of the Mustard Seed, a popular restaurant we all miss very much! Kevin moved to Billings in the early 2000s, has two grown children and enjoys hiking, biking, backpacking and fishing.
Andy Beach- member
Andy Beach was involved with a board of directors for a multi-use bicycle trail in Wisconsin that raised money and built a trail connecting two communities. A portion of the trail was a multi-use trail that traversed a section of unused railway right of way with a large portion of funding coming from state and federal grants including a DOT grant and a rails to trails grant.
Andy is passionate and social proponent of community involvement, multi-use trails, and bicycling. I have an interest in seeing projects like the Billings trail system grow.
Jim Downs- member
Jim Downs is a graduate of EMC with a degree in biology, spent two yers in the US Army before moving back to Billings and opened The Spoke Shop in 1973.
After retiring in 2011, Jim became one of Billings TrailNet’s Board of Directors in 2012. Jim is an active cyclist in Billings and elsewhere with children in Missoula, Denmark and one splitting time between Billings and Southeast Asia.
Steve Neary- Vice President
Growing up in Montana, Steve Neary’s appreciation for active outdoor living was born in Butte, America where a day biking and hiking around the mines with friends lasted from dawn until dusk. While those long outdoor days now include skiing, rafting and golfing with his wife Tracy, adult children PJ & Victoria and teenage daughter, Addison, a bad day outside is still almost better than the best days inside for him.
Steve taught all three of his kids how to ride a bicycle on Billings streets and trails which he says have improved dramatically over time. Steve describes his passions as his family and riding (MTB & Road) and says he’s grateful for the work Billings TrailNet has done creating a foundation of healthy living by integrating trails into our community. He is excited for the opportunity to serve our community through the work of Billings TrailNet.
On the professional front, Steve graduated from MSU-Billings with a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems in 1993 and began his professional career at Computers Unlimited before transitioning to the healthcare environment at St. Vincent Healthcare in 2005. He currently works as an Integration Developer with Intermountain Healthcare.
Morgan Tuss- Secretary
Morgan Tuss was born in Billings, Montana. She finished her undergraduate degrees at Montana State University Billings, and she completed her law degree at the University of North Dakota School of Law.
Morgan works for the law firm of Patten, Peterman, Bekkedahl & Green, P.L.L.C., doing transactional and estate work.
She grew up in a historic neighborhood of Billings and now lives on a small plot of land in west Billings where she enjoys her horses, dogs, and cats!
Morgan enjoys the mountains and the rivers and also local breweries, dining, and concerts.
Having grown up in Billings and beginning her career here, Morgan has a strong understanding of the needs of our community and is excited about fostering and encouraging the safety and recreation of our trails as Billings continues to grow.
Kristi Drake, Executive Director
Bio: Kristi Drake was appointed as Billings TrailNet’s first executive director in November 2012.
Kristi has enjoyed commuting on her bike to work for years, and has enjoyed the active lifestyle the Billings trails and terrain have to offer since she moved here with her family in 2008.
Kristi is a certified as a cycling instructor with the League of American Bicyclists. She serves on Billings’ Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee, the State Trails Advisory Committee, is past chair of the Billings Chamber of Commerce Trails Committee and is a member of Billings Downtown Rotary.
Kristi served on Billings TrailNet’s board of directors from 2009-2011 and coordinated Ales for Trails for many years. Kristi has a master’s degree in public relations and also enjoys hiking, backpacking and international travel.
Executive Director Responsibilities:
Reports to the Board of Directors, has overall strategic and operational responsibility for Billings TrailNet’s staff, programs, expansion, and execution of its mission.
The ED also ensures ongoing programmatic excellence, program evaluation, and consistent quality of finance and administration, fundraising, communications, and systems; recommend timelines and resources needed to achieve the strategic goals.s
Develops, maintains, and support a strong Board of Directors; serves as ex-officio of each committee; seeks and builds board involvement with strategic direction for operations.
Fundraising & Communications:
Expands revenue generating and fundraising activities to support existing program and operations.
Deepens and refines all aspects of communications—from web presence to external relations with the goal of creating a stronger brand.
Uses external presence and relationships to garner new opportunities.
Lynn Harper, Program Coordinator
Bio: Lynn Harper was hired at Billings TrailNet in the spring of 2017, but has been an active member for years. She appears in our “Take the Hi Road” campaign ads as the bicyclist in yellow, making her way down 6th Avenue North and signaling properly!
As Program Coordinator, Lynn is in charge of our membership programs, volunteers and events.
Program Coordinator Responsibilities:
The program coordinator is responsible for managing the office, financials, event scheduling and organization, and volunteer and membership development. The program coordinator reports to the executive director.