By late next spring, Daly Mansion executive director April Johnson hopes she’ll no longer have to worry every time someone walks over the mansion’s expansive deck.

That deck today is covered with patches of tin hiding places where decking boards have broken in half.

The newest hole appeared just a day before members of the state’s Tourism Advisory Council arrived for their October meeting earlier this week.

On Wednesday morning, that group let Johnson know that the Daly Mansion had been recommended for a $25,715 Tourism Infrastructure Investment Program grant from the Montana Office of Tourism to finally fix the deck for good.

“We were very, very excited to hear that,” Johnson said.

The Bitterroot Valley was doubly blessed by the committee’s recommendations for TIIP grants this year.

The Bitterroot Cross-Country Ski Club’s request for $22,000 to purchase trail grooming equipment for maintaining ski trails at Chief Joseph Pass also made the cut.

Victor Bjornberg of the Montana Office of Tourism said the state received 30 grant applications totaling $2.3 million in requests.

The state allocated $550,000 this year from the state’s lodging tax receipts for the program.

Bjornberg said 11 projects were recommended for approval and a 12th for partial funding.

After considering the grant criteria, the Daly Mansion’s Front Porch Restoration was rated number one on the list. The ski club’s project was rated number 11.

Montana Commerce Director Dore Schwinden will consider the recommendations and make a final decision sometime in October.

The program focuses on projects that will improve infrastructure for the state’s tourism industry. Potential grantees complete an extensive application that outlines the benefits of their projects for long term tourism appeal and provides letters of support from their communities.

In western Montana, other projects recommended for approval include:

• A $27,882 grant for renovation of historic ranger dwellings at the National Smokejumpers Center in Missoula.

• A grandstand reconstruction project at the Polson Fairgrounds would receive $80,000.

• A $66,114 grant toward the $250,000 cost of the purchase of the Ninepipes Museum of Early History.

Each project is required to provide at least $1 of matching funds for every $2 of grant monies.

The program has been in place since 1995, Bjornberg said. Since its inception, 97 projects in 47 communities have been awarded over $4 million in grants. Those grants have helped pay for a total of $43 million in improvements.

“We are getting a pretty good return on our investments,” Bjornberg said. “It’s been a great way for communities to leverage other sources of funding for important projects.”

This is the second TIIP grant awarded to the Daly Mansion.

In 1998, a $50,000 grant helped pay for a variety of work, including replacement of the roof, upgrading electrical systems, and doing work on the boiler system.

This grant will pay to complete replacement of the decking on the north side of the mansion.

“We have been fundraising for this project for a couple of years now,” Johnson said. “Without the help of the community and our donors, we wouldn’t have been able to come with the match needed to obtain the grant.

“There’s no other way we could have completed this project without all of that coming together,” she said.

Plans call for starting the work to replace the decking sometime after the first of the year with hopes that it will be completed before the start of next year’s tourism season.

“We’re looking forward to the day when our guests will be stepping on nice and beautiful decking and not having to step around all the patchwork,” she said.

The grant for the ski club is unique for the program, Bjornberg said.

“It’s the first time that one similar to this has been recommended for approval,” he said.

The committee liked the fact that the club’s grooming activities at Chief Joseph attracted non-residents to the area. It also liked the economic side benefits to local businesses in the community the ski area offered, Bjornberg said.

The ski club’s president, Mike Hoyt, said the club will purchase two new snowmobiles and additional grooming equipment with the grant monies.

“We are looking to make life a lot easier on the volunteers who run the groomers,” he said. “Right now, I don’t think that we have any snowmobile that newer than five or six years old. Some of the grooming equipment has been around since the club first got started.”

Reach reporter Perry Backus at 363-3300 or pbackus@ravallirepublic.com.

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