Lee Griffiths skied almost every ski area out west before settling on Big Sky as his home. Like many residents, he is determined to do his part to improve the Big Sky community and the world. The emergency call box at the 35-mph bridge next to the Lava Lake Trailhead was installed along Highway 191 in the summer of 2018 thanks to the Rotary Club of Big Sky. The Rotary continues its efforts to upgrade and install more boxes along the stretches of Highway 191 without cell service.

59716 Volunteer: Bettering Big Sky

Bettering Big Sky SUB: Rotarian tackles the daunting quest for call boxes
“There are dozens of groups and hundreds of people engaged in making this community a better place,” he said. “Your average Montana town may have a couple of people involved in local government, but as an unincorporated place Big Sky has hundreds of residents involved as volunteers. It’s already a spectacular place, but there are people who want to make it better. In Big Sky if you see something you think this community needs a lot of people form a group, a charity, and get other people together to make it happen.”

There is nothing Lee Griffiths does that is not well thought-out. His move to Big Sky years ago was quite researched and intentional. He knew he wanted to escape the rat race of the East Coast and settle in a ski community out west, so he spent an entire season visiting many resort areas. Big Sky was right and continues to be right for him – he has a hard time imagining living anywhere else.

Focused and driven are words that could also be used to describe him. He generally accomplishes the goals he sets, despite obstacles or government-inspired red tape. The drive to create and do good works is something he admires about many other residents of Big Sky.

“There are dozens of groups and hundreds of people engaged in making this community a better place,” he said. “Your average Montana town may have a couple of people involved in local government, but as an unincorporated place Big Sky has hundreds of residents involved as volunteers. It’s already a spectacular place, but there are people who want to make it better. In Big Sky if you see something you think this community needs a lot of people form a group, a charity, and get other people together to make it happen.”

Griffiths used the hockey rink as an example – a group of people who liked playing hockey wanted a rink, so they created one. “And it’s a great rink,” he said of the result of efforts by the Big Sky Skating and Hockey Association.

Over the years, a few volunteer opportunities found Griffiths and really stuck. His wintertime work as a ski instructor at the Yellowstone Club found him teaching skiing to clients with physical challenges. He was then asked to transfer those skills over to the nonprofit Eagle Mount. Five years later, he’s still doing it.

“I enjoy getting out there,” he said. “I think that whoever you are and whatever challenges you face, you should still be able to get out there and enjoy the freedom of skiing.”

The Rotary connection

Danielle Miller, a friend of Griffiths who he met through teaching skiing just happened to be the Rotary Club of Big Sky president. Miller asked if he’d like to come to a meeting and help pick up litter along Ousel Falls Road about five years ago.

“I’ve been going to meetings ever since,” he said. “We meet once a week for an hour to try and save the world. They say the average American spends 25 hours on their phone a week, something like that. Why not spend an hour once a week trying to make the world a better place?”

Griffiths explained that Rotary Club is a service organization focused on supporting local communities and helping nationally as well as internationally. One primary goal of the international organization is to fully eradicate polio.

“Until it’s completely wiped out it is still a risk to the whole world,” he said. “It has to be completely eradicated everywhere. We’re almost there.”

Local Rotary projects are many. The organization installed the boulder climbing walls in the park, the kayak launch at Moose Creek and the bus shelters in town. Rotary also sponsors the Giving Tree found at the post office before Christmas.

“The community buys the presents and we wrap them and deliver them along with a Christmas dinner,” Griffiths said with a smile. He believes, with the Giving Tree, around 16 families and 28 kids had a brighter holiday, all thanks to community efforts and the help of the Rotary.

Big Sky’s Rotary also helps expand the horizons of Big Sky youth with an exchange program. The group is able to fund their projects for the year from one annual event: The Gold Auction, a dinner and live and silent auction held every January at Buck’s T-4. The event will take place on January 25 this year.

The quest for callboxes

Griffiths has become concerned with the safety of the traveling public on the 20-mile stretch of Highway 191 between Big Sky and Bozeman and the 30-mile section of that road between Big Sky and West Yellowstone. There is no cell service in those areas, and therefore, no likely chance for expedient help in case of an emergency. Life-saving call boxes in those areas have been on the radar of Big Sky Rotary for decades, and on Griffith’s agenda for the past few years. He’s been busy slicing through red tape to replace ones that have become archaic through highway construction and aged technology.

He dealt with the Montana Department of Transportation, making use of their highway easements with recently completed/updated call boxes in the Gallatin Canyon: the first at Moose Creek and the second at the 35 mph bridge near the Lava Lake Trailhead.

The next two call box projects Griffiths is targeting are at the entrance to Taylor Fork Road south of Big Sky as well as the Montana entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Those, he said, may be a bit more complicated. He will need to work with the United States Forest Service – an organization bombarded by permit requests. He was informed during his last attempt that there’s a more than year-long wait to learn if a permit for a one-foot by one-foot square of land for a call box would be granted. He’s hoping the entities with which he will work will understand this is not a for-profit venture; it is a for-safety venture.

3 Rivers Communications has updated to fiber optics and no longer supports copper line, which is what the call box at Taylor Fork runs on. The goal is to revamp the entire thing: a solar panel to recharge the phone and fiber optic for the voice connection.

“The challenge with Taylor Fork is that in order to hook it up to fiber optics, we either need to move the phone a little bit so it’s a little closer to where the fiber optic connection would be, or we’d need to run fiber optic from this hub over to the phone,” he explained. “Earlier this year we thought we were going to lose the copper connection, so 3 Rivers reached out to the Forest Service to get permission to have just a temporary fiber optic line over to the phone and got no response.”

Griffiths is hoping that future attempts to address the safety issue will receive a response, and is anxiously anticipating the red tape he will face when attempting to install the call box at the entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

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