Envision: Cultural Center for Metra Park
By Evelyn Pyburn
With Metra Park officials seeking public input as to what the community would like to see emerge in the recently opened-up spaces at the facility, one of the dozens of citizens interviewed by the master planners has put forth a new idea which seems to have caught the imagination of many.
Well-known Billings businessman, Charlie Yegen, who is a descendent of one of the community’s pioneer families and who has long served as a leader for the Yellowstone County Museum, has suggested that a cultural center would be a perfect addition to Metra Park, as well as the community in general. He was joined by a number of others on Monday to present the concept to County Commissioners.
A cultural center would accommodate a wide range of exhibits and programs that would “promote, preserve, and disseminate the historic and modern cultures of the greater Yellowstone River Valley.” The facility Yegen envisions would be a destination showcase that would serve Billings very much like the Buffalo Bill Center in Cody, Wyoming. Yegen sees a cultural center as a feature that would amplify the many visitor attractions in the region, including the museum in Cody, Little Big Horn Battlefield, Pompey’s Pillar, Pictograph Caves, Beartooth Pass and more. Being located at Metra Park, it would complement all its activities, “whether it be the rodeo or the midway.” And, it would be there to do that every day of the year, while serving as an attraction unto itself.
Yegen said that the light bulb came on for him in talking to Metra Park planners about potential attractions. In drawing on his long-standing efforts to relocate and expand the Yellowstone County Museum, the two visions merged. A cultural center would of course be more than a museum – and in fact it could consolidate and interweave a number of cultural aspects of the community.
It would support a vibrant economy with increased tourism and add to our quality of life and educational opportunities.
Ideas were quickly offered by others as they caught onto the idea and began brainstorming. It would be about “Cowboys and Indians,” exclaimed Dr. Joseph McGeschik, an MSU-Billings instructor and tribal liaison, who was among those present. “Cowboys and Indians are what people want to see when they come here.”
It could include an Indian Art Center, explain our agriculture, our history and heritage.
It would be located at a convergence of many city features, bike trails, Boot Hill, Yellowstone Kelly’s memorial, sacred Indian grounds, Swords Park and Alkali Creek where dinosaur fossils have been found – and note— dinosaurs are becoming an ever greater ‘big deal’! It could meld with the Montana Pro Rodeo Hall and Wall of Fame, horticulture gardens, and more.
The center would address the need for a regional repository – a facility to which people can donate collections and valuable artifacts that all too often go to other parts of the country. “There is an amazing amount of artifacts and papers out there stored in spare bedrooms,” said Yegen, “All those fabulous collections, and a lot of folks have all that stuff and wonder what to do with it.”
“The potential is amazing,” said Yegen, and “there isn’t a sector in the community that shouldn’t benefit.” Yegen wants feedback from others. If there is enough support, the next step would be to form a group of interested individuals to develop the concept. “We need an organization to come up with the goals and objectives and theory of operation,” he said.