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By Daniel Davey
If Western New York has written off Beaver Island State Park as a destination, Montana International is determined to change that.
Since taking over management of the sprawling, 950-acre State Park’s guest services in 2019, Cyndy Montana, owner/operator on Montana International, has hit the ground running. The early months of her company’s 20-year contract with New York state saw the organization learning and planning for all the park has to offer. Then COVID-19 happened. Restrictions affected all the park amenities. But Montana did not sit still waiting for things to open up.
“It’s so beautiful here,” she said. “We want to bring life back to Beaver Island. I love Grand Island; I want it to prosper in a positive way. I want this to benefit everybody on Grand Island, not just my bottom line. People that come here are my friends, my neighbors. So I think we give it an extra warmth that maybe bigger companies wouldn’t.”
While the Montana organization is charged with running and updating guest food and beverages services, New York state still runs and takes care of the park’s infrastructure.
“I think ecotourism is kind of the drive for Grand Island. Buffalo has its own personality; Niagara Falls has its own personality. People just drive over Grand Island. So ecotourism is a perfect fit,” Montana said.
And it seems New York state would agree.
Montana sees nothing but possibilities and potential for Beaver Island. Currently, that vision begins and continues with V’Randa, the full-service bar and restaurant adjacent to Beaver Island’s largest structure, The Falconwood Event Center. Having grown up on a farm in Quebec, Montana named V’Randa after the way her father pronounced “veranda,” or porch.
“To me,” she said, “the veranda is where we ate and drank and celebrated and relaxed and looked at the view. And this is what I want people to do here. I want it to have that feel.”
She’s begun the transformation, having pushed V’Randa to open in the summer of 2020, during COVID-19, “because people wanted outdoor dining,” Montana said.
And for all intents and purposes, it’s had success. She plans to continue updating the space, bringing in a warm and comfortable décor with items from her father’s farm. She’s added new tables and seating, outdoor heaters and retractable curtains on all open sides of the patio space, which, she says, increase the warmth level significantly. There are live bands every Monday and Tuesday night, with open plans for weekend live events. And the menu, as she describes it, is “Western New York favorites with a twist. Yet higher-end than a pub.” The goal forward is for V’Randa to be a three-, if not four-season venue, weather-permitting. And she plans to staff it as such, and increase the seating and tables.
“It’s so insane,” she said. “We can finally start our businesses back up, and try and get ourselves out of this hole. I’m really behind. But here I am, we can finally make money. But I can’t buy tables and chairs because they’re weeks backordered, and I can’t find staff to work.
But,” she said with optimism, “I have 17 more years to make it up.”
Indeed Montana International is looking to the future of Beaver Island, in line with the ecotourism focus of the state’s “I Love NY” initiatives. In the works at Beaver Island currently is the state-run renovation and improvement project to the Big Six Marina, slated to be completed and opened up again Labor Day weekend. It will include more slips and more parking than before.
Part of that renovation includes updates to The Chandler, the guest services arm at the marina. Montana envisions a more full-service venue to docked vessels, in which one can order a morning brunch delivered to their boat deck. She also envisions concerts at the new marina, perhaps on a monthly basis.
Also on deck for Montana International and Beaver Island going forward are:
•The Sand Stand, opposite the beachfront. It’s currently open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, partly due to staffing difficulties and weather-permitting. More hours are in the offing.
•The Falconwood Event Center, for which Montana has hired a salesperson to try and connect with both individuals and corporations to plan events. She sees more weddings, and other organizational functions for 25 to 500 people. She believes events can incorporate other amenities the park offers, such as golf retreats.
•Bogey’s Clubhouse, and taking the idea of golf leagues and competitions a step further into disc golf, cornhole and volleyball leagues.
•Beaver Island Marina, which is slated to undergo some state-run renovations beginning next year.
•Campgrounds, also in the planning stage for the park.
Beaver Island State Park “is great value,” Montana said. Regarding state-run infrastructure such as the golf course and marinas, “All of our pricing is lower than any competition because it’s a state park,” she said. “Even the $7 you pay to get in” is a value considering that folks would pay to park for a night out of dining in Buffalo or Niagara Falls, and not have the view, or variety of activities or events Beaver Island offers.
“We (Montana International) have to change the local mindset,” she said. “So much possibility and potential is here; it’s a beautiful place.”
www.MontanaInternational.us is the website launching pad for everything guest services at Beaver Island and Big Six Marina, as well as information regarding events taking place there.