By MATT BALDWIN
For the Hungry Horse News
A sizable state grant has helped put fundraising over the top for new grandstands at the Sapa-Johnsrud baseball fields in Columbia Falls.
Glacier Babe Ruth President Ray Queen says the organization has secured a $102,466 grant from the Montana Office of Tourism. Those funds, on top of previously secured donations of more than $100,000, will be enough to fund the project.
The landmark stadium burned to the ground in a fire last June. Authorities speculated the blaze was started by children playing with fireworks under the bleachers.
Queen said officials with the state tourism office reached out about grant opportunities after reading an article in the Daily Inter Lake about the fundraising efforts.
“They saw the article and said ‘we can help,’” Queen said.
Queen’s wife, Kris, filed the grant paperwork and the funds were secured this spring.
“We showed proof that we bring people into the valley,” Queen said about earning the tourism funds. “[Tournaments] bring people to town and Columbia Falls really benefits from it.”
Queen said that earning the grant has energized him to organize more and bigger tournaments in the future.
“I want to follow through with the reason we got this grant,” he said.
While still a little short of the initial grandstand fundraising goal, Queen says they have enough money “to make something happen.”
“We can get something done now with the money we have,” he said. “There are so many that have donated, from small to big groups. It’s been amazing the outpouring of support that’s happened.”
The plan is to rebuild the grandstands nearly exactly how they were previously constructed. Work is anticipated to begin after the state tournament this summer.
“They’ll be the same dimensions, just updated,” Queen said.
Temporary bleachers are set up for this season.