BILLINGS – The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary in Red Lodge has been named as one of eight recipients of a total of $500,000 in grants from state tourism officials.

Announced this week by Gov. Steve Bullock and Montana Department of Commerce Director Meg O’Leary, the sanctuary will receive $54,000 from the Department of Commerce’s Tourism Infrastructure Investment Program for improvements to its walkways and signage on the grounds.

“We’re just really thrilled because this really recognizes the role we can play in tourism around the state,” said Ellie Marion, sanctuary executive director. “It’s huge.”

The YWS is a nonprofit animal sanctuary that houses about 65 animals from more than 40 species and is the state’s only public refuge for rescued wildlife.

Marion met several state tourism officials at a conference in May and invited them to visit the sanctuary. Upon visiting and checking out the grounds, they recommended the grant program.

“They took a look at our facility and could see the value that it has for tourists,” she said.

Specifically, the money will go toward improving and build walking paths throughout the sanctuary, including addressing drainage issues and clearing up tripping hazards. It will also help to provide new in-depth educational signage.

All of the groups received the TIIP money with the goal of boosting tourism across Montana and, when everything’s finished, will result in $1.3 million in tourism improvements.

“The TIIP grant funds will help both established tourism attractions upgrade their facilities as well as give developing attractions a boost in their efforts to expand their appeal and services,” O’Leary said in a news release. “These projects also benefit Montana residents by bolstering the local economy and adding to their community’s quality of life.”

The money was granted with the stipulation that the sanctuary provide some matching funds and quickly brought together $27,000, bringing the total project cost to $81,000.

“We were able, within a month, to raise that $27,000 from our donors,” Marion said. “It’s incredible and they were so generous.”

The timing of the grant process worked well, if a bit quickly for the sanctuary. In June, it brought on Emily Bertino as its assistant executive director, largely as a fundraiser and to bring in grant money.

She had the grant proposal written by July, a process that often takes several months.

“It’s huge,” Marion said of Bertino’s presence. “Getting the funding for that position and finding somebody like Emily is going to make the facility run. It’s going to enable us to succeed.”

The TIIP grant money comes from the 4 percent Montana Lodging Facility Use Tax and requires a $1 match for every $2 provided.

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