Grant Impact: ZooMontana Foster Waterfowl Refuge


Receiving grant funding can be a game-changer for nonprofit organizations, enabling them to turn their visions into reality. ZooMontana, located in Billings, recently experienced this transformational impact with the Foster Waterfowl Refuge project. Thanks to a grant program offered by the Office of Tourism, the Zoo was able to achieve its fundraising goals, accelerate the construction timeline, and foster credibility for future endeavors.

In 2021, ZooMontana embarked on the journey of designing a state-of-the-art waterfowl/conservation exhibit. The area was envisioned as a dual exhibit, featuring a natural flythrough for native waterfowl and a refuge for native fish that could not be released into the wild. This unique concept aimed to provide an urban escape for wildlife, creating a much-needed sanctuary.

The project involved numerous private and public partnerships which included the funding from the Office of Tourism's grant program. This collaboration resulted in the creation of a one-of-a-kind waterfowl habitat within an AZA accredited institution in the United States. The exhibit boasts several remarkable features, such as a bird observatory deck, underwater fish viewing, and multiple bridges, offering Zoo guests a multi-sensory and immersive experience. The primary objective of this project was to provide vital educational opportunities to ZooMontana's 120,000 annual guests, showcasing the intricate ecology of wetlands. Through engaging exhibits, visitors were immersed in unique natural encounters while still enjoying the comforts of modern amenities. This educational aspect aimed to raise awareness and appreciation for wetland ecosystems

"Receiving funding for the Foster Waterfowl Refuge through Montana's Office of Tourism grant program is impactful to ZooMontana in a few ways. Of course, the actual funding allowed the Zoo to reach its fundraising goal in a timely manner, allowing the Zoo to begin construction on an earlier timeline. However, the most impactful part of these funds revolves around the State buy-in. Seeing Montana's Office of Tourism affiliation lends significant weight to the project and creates a sense of credibility for future guests, sponsors, and philanthropists," said ZooMontana's Executive Director, Jeff Ewelt. "The bulk of the funding from the grant was utilized for expected purchases, such as boulders, earthwork, and concrete work. However, the ability to use a portion of the funds for out-of-home marketing was invaluable. As a small nonprofit with large expenses, the ability to market both eastern and western Montana was key in helping us exceed attendance goals and generate excitement around the new habitat.”

"It is expected that this habitat will continue to grow over the years, in terms of species added and species that utilize the space. Plants will continue to grow, and the wetland system will continually filter the water. It is expected this new habitat will educate millions, as guests’ cycle through. In addition, on-site education programs will ensure generations of children will, understand the impact wetlands have on our lives." added Ewelt.

Furthermore, the development of the Foster Waterfowl Refuge contributes to the growth of ZooMontana as a destination. By extending a visitor's stay, the habitat creates a desire for guests to spend more time within the community. This will lead to increased opportunities for dining, shopping, recreation, and lodging, benefiting the local economy.

 A ribbon cutting for the grand opening of the Foster Waterfowl Refuge is set for 1:00 pm on Wednesday, July 19th at ZooMontana located at 2100 Shiloh Road in Billings. For more information about the exhibits, hours of operation, and costs, visit the Zoo’s website at .


Tags: Office of Tourism News