Nonprofit supports Brewfest — and more

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From left, Bill Goudge, Kristen Caldwell, John Caldwell, Dane Hollinger, Chris Evans, Ashley Rohrer and Patrick Landon of Bigfork Innovations Group at Wayfarers State Park

Bigfork Brewfest is only about a month away, and the organizers are gearing up for the big event. But leaders with Bigfork Innovations Group, the organization behind the event, said people in the community might not realize the myriad of other initiatives they take on throughout the year around the town.

“It was formed to try to create a way for more people to be involved in the community,” explained Jenny Evans. She and her husband Chris, who run Max’s Market, started the group in 2017 along with Lisa Cloutier and Brian Anderson, the couple behind such Bigfork establishments as The Raven and Whistling Andy’s Distillery.

BIG, as the group is known, aims to bring in “different events that add to the town,” Cloutier said.

Bigfork Brewfest will take place on March 7 this year at Wayfarer’s State Park. Cloutier was part of the original team that started the event about a decade ago, and BIG took over as the event organizer three years ago.

In that time, Evans said Bigfork’s signature springtime celebration has “grown quite a bit.”

They expect more than 30 brewers and 1,200 attendees this year. Evans remembered when the event attracted about half that number of brewers and only 400 or 500 visitors.

“The goal is to expose Bigfork to people,” she explained. She said Brewfest is an opportunity to highlight other area businesses while visitors are in town for the main event.

In addition to Brewfest, BIG organizes the Village Market, Ciderfest, the Hunting Film Tour and, starting this year, the Bigfork Whitewater Festival. BIG’s mission is multifold: to organize community events, encourage volunteerism and raise funds to support the community.

“We’re focused on bringing events that are family-friendly … and supporting local charities,” Cloutier explained.

BIG has about 50 active members who volunteer at events like Brewfest and the Village Market. So far, they have raised about $25,000 each year through these initiatives. Some of these funds go back to supporting other area nonprofits like ACES, the Bigfork Rotary and the Community Foundation for a Better Bigfork.

Evans and Cloutier said BIG is set apart from similar community groups by its diverse membership and organizational focus.

BIG took shape “out of a desire we saw to get a more diverse group,” said Evans. “The reason BIG was created is it’s just a very open group.”

Cloutier agreed: “We have a good mixture. We’re not excluding anybody.”

She said members range from new Bigfork arrivals to longtime residents, and people in their early twenties to retirees in their seventies.

Evans insisted their monthly meetings are “social and casual.”

“Everybody has a voice,” she added.

She also explained BIG focuses on “looking at doing things in the community others aren’t able to do.”

Both Evans and Cloutier have served on the Bigfork Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, and Cloutier said they started BIG to support an even broader range of activities in the community. She and Evans noticed groups like the Chamber can be limited by their focus on business and tourism, and other nonprofits confront limited funding and membership.

Cloutier said BIG tries to fill in the gaps from other groups’ “limited bandwidth” and support different events to add variety to the town. “We want to be there for some of these smaller ones,” she said of other Bigfork charities.

And Evans added, “We work with other organizations and donate to them. It works very synergistically.”

Evans said the best way to get involved with BIG is to come to monthly meetings. “We’re a very open and welcoming group,” she insisted. »

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at bserbin@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4459.

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