In 2017, after years of planning, Sanford and Claire Stone realized their dream and broke ground on Park Cabin Company in Babb, Mont., an unincorporated farming and ranching community in Glacier County.
Their modern cabins are located on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and serve as a base camp for folks who are visiting and adventuring in Glacier National Park.
When the Stones set out to create this tourism-based venture, they were determined to offset the impacts of development by employing sustainable practices. So, they applied for a grant through the USDA Rural Development (RD) Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) and used the funding to invest in solar arrays. "It's important to us to preserve the incredible habitat here at the Crown of the Continent," said Sanford. "The USDA RD Montana team was helpful in guiding us through the process and truly wanted us to be successful. I'm not sure we would have had the guts to start the project without the additional investment from USDA RD."
The Glacier County Regional Port Authority also provided funding to help create this locally-sourced electricity.
The Stones acknowledged that the solar arrays have resulted in a marked improvement to Park Cabin Company's bottom line because of reduced energy costs, and they've been able to attract new business from the eco-tourism sector.
The 15,360 kilowatt-hours (per year) on-site solar array system generates about 90 percent of Park Cabin Company's annual energy needs. In fact, during the 2020 tourist season, when everyone was reeling from COVID-related shutdowns, Park Cabin Company was able to keep their electric bill near zero and sent excess clean energy back into the grid for their neighbors to use!
With tourism activities in Glacier National Park opening up after COVID-related shutdowns, and businesses starting to regain financial stability, the Stones are hopeful that others will follow their lead and pursue renewable energy resources. "Renewable energy is not just a good idea from an eco-conscious perspective, it makes a lot of sense from the business side of things. In fact, the cost savings from this helped us remain afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic," Sanford stated. "We'd love to share our success and encourage our neighbors to invest in similar projects with the USDA RD's help."