Kalispell Visitors Bureau Hands Off Dragon Boats, Cancels Pond Hockey

Bigfork Area Chamber of Commerce will take over dragon boat festival in 2019

By Justin Franz
The Montana Dragon Boat Festival on Flathead Lake on Sept. 12, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

The Kalispell Convention and Visitor Bureau is handing off control of the popular Montana Dragon Boat Festival to the Bigfork Area Chamber of Commerce in 2019. The event will also move from Lakeside to Wayfarers State Park near Bigfork.

Convention and visitor bureau officials said the decision to pass on management of the event would free up resources so it can focus on different initiatives. The bureau also announced on Aug. 31 that it was permanently canceling the Montana Pond Hockey Classic, an event that has been plagued with thin ice in recent years.

The decision to hand off control of the popular dragon boat festival will not impact this year’s event, scheduled for Sept. 8 and 9 in Lakeside.

“The Dragon Boat Festival was started at a time when September tourism was not strong in Kalispell,” said Diane Medler, Kalispell CVB director. “Now that we have established it as a sustainable signature event in the Flathead Valley, we are excited to turn it over to a long-term presenter — as we intended to do from the beginning.”

In the last five years, the Montana Dragon Boat Festival has contributed $6 million to the local economy.

The Montana Pond Hockey Classic has been less successful and canceled twice in the last three years because of unstable ice conditions. In 2015, the event had to be moved from Foys Lake to Woodland Park in downtown Kalispell due to poor ice conditions. In 2016, it was canceled because even the ice at Woodland Park would not hold. In 2017, the event was moved from February to January in hopes of taking advantage of colder weather, and while that helped last year, the event was cancelled again this year because the weather wouldn’t cooperate.

“We applied a great deal of creativity trying to determine a safe, enjoyable way to hold the classic. But there was no way to ensure that weather wouldn’t again undermine the event,” Medler said. “While everyone understands the unpredictability of weather, we decided not to continue an event that could possibly give people negative feelings about planning a trip to Kalispell.”

The Kalispell CVB will continue to sponsor the Montana Spartan Race and Montana Indoor Soccer Championship. Medler said the resources freed up from dragon boats and pond hockey will be put toward other efforts, including trying to attract more business conferences to the area.