AUGUSTA — “It is so much better now than it was a year ago,” says Tammy Dellwo, Buckhorn Bar owner.
When the pandemic began, COVID-19 felt a world away from small communities like Augusta. Many in the small town on the Rocky Mountain front didn’t think the virus could reach them, but local health officials urged the town to be prepared.
“The county nurse here had a meeting with the heads of the church, heads of committees and all of that and like she said to us 'it's not if it happens in our small town, it's when it's gonna happen.’ You know, to get us prepared,” says Dellwo.
Tammy Dellwo owns the Buckhorn Bar and shared with me the moment she realized Augusta may not be so isolated.
“I think in that moment I realized that it was a real thing," says Dellow.
Towns like Augusta rely on tourism from hunters in the fall, to campers and back-country adventurers in the summer.
Out-of-state travelers alone spent more than $3.5 billion in Montana in 2019.
"We started in October . So we had at least a few months of experience but just about as we were to get geared up for a good summer season then we got this shut down,” says Matt Folkman. “There's a lot of reinventing that had to take place and we figured out how to make it through."
Travel and dining concerns related to the pandemic will likely send that figure plummeting in 2020. The loss of lodging dollars was a major concern for Matt Folkman, the owner of the Bunkhouse Inn. His business would face a second tragedy in October 2020, when a fire destroyed the historic inn.
“As you know, our hotel burned down and so, you know, already kind of being under pressure having to deal with the constraints of dealing with the pandemic, and we lost what was our home over there, and hotel,” says Folkman.
Now both Dellwo and Folkman are looking to the future.
“You realize what was really important to you. We've had this business for 60 years, but then it's family-ran. So through that pandemic where we were shut down, we could all have dinner together. We could all have a birthday party together. One of them didn't have to work, one did. It made us a tight-knit group,” says Dellwo.
Plans are in the works to rebuild the Bunkhouse Inn, so it can again welcome travelers looking for adventure like it has for more than 100 years.
“We're getting close. We're getting close to building. We really looked forward to that,” says Folkman. “I really enjoyed having all our travelers come into town and just the people from wherever whether it be from Great Falls or Australia or wherever. We had that before and that's what we lost last year."
Folkman looks forward to having tourism go through Augusta once again in the upcoming months. Augusta also awaits for the community to come together again to do the little things like Dellwo hugging her 83-year-old father and being near others without fear.