Mark Reavis has lived in Butte, Montana since 1981. He came sight unseen to be an architectural intern. He has worked as an architect in many capacities for over 30 years, but mostly in historic preservation. He spent 21 years working for the City-County as the Historic Preservation Officer and staff architect. Upon retirement from this job at age 50, Mark pursued his architecture full-time and then started Butte Urban Safari Tours with his wife. While these 2 endeavors keep him very busy, Mark finds the time to volunteer and donate his services to many organizations. Mark’s dedication to Butte, and his ongoing vision, can be seen all over town from the adaptive reuse of the Belmont Mine Hoist House turned into a popular senior center to the red lights that light up the headframes at night to preservation of intact mineyards, and much more. He owns the historic William A. Clark Jr Home and Carriage House and hopes to restore it to its former glory. More than anything, Mark loves Butte and sharing it with everyone.
Nicole von Gaza-Reavis has lived in Butte since 2006, vowing to move there after spending the summer of 1997 in the town as a carpenter. The history and architecture reminded her very much of Skagway, Alaska, where she lived for 16 years and was directly involved in tourism. She came to Butte specifically to start a stained glass business focusing on restoration of historic windows. She joined in the preservation community, advocating for historic buildings and writing grants. This is where she met Mark. They then started the tour company together and can be seen driving the golf cars in tandem, spinning yarns around town. Nicole is also a former archaeologist for the National Park Service, as well as a former seamstress for Cirque du Soleil. She is currently working towards National Certification in Canine Massage in between restoring windows, giving tours and restoring her home.
How do the experiences you offer give guests a unique perspective on history, people or culture of Butte?
Our guests have a unique perspective on history, people, and culture because they ride in our open-air golf cars. We go where other motorized tours can’t. We offer the ability to stop at will for photos, to meet local people, to go in buildings, grab a bite to eat.
How have the tours that you offer evolved since their inception?
We had the belief that a one-hour tour of Uptown Butte was possible. It is not! We abandoned our 60 minute option and now offer a 90 minute tour, which lasts a minimum of 2 hours.
What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important? Please explain why.
People take the tour but do not realize that their voice could be instrumental in helping Butte to grow as a tourism destination. Butte suffers from a misunderstood reputation. The current political system does not acknowledge Butte’s wealth of history and resources and therefore does not promote itself thusly to visitors, with the exception of a few festival weekends in summer.
What do you wish every guest knew as they consider visiting Butte, Montana?
That Butte is a National Historic Landmark District, part of only 3% of nationally listed districts in the US. It is the highest honor and designation. We share this with places such as Ellis Island and Gettysburg Battlefield – sites directly linked to the development of the United States. In addition, Butte was designated a Labor History Landmark – one of a handful in the US. This Historic District is the story of the electrification of the US and the complex issues involved in workers’ rights and safety. Issues that remain relevant today regarding energy, workers, and environmental impacts.
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
Retired or semi-retired empty-nesters that travel during the shoulder seasons. These people have money, time, education and interest. This includes international travelers, Canadians in particular. They tend to stay in an area for an extended period of time and explore. We call it the “I had no idea!” reaction.
What sets your tours apart from those offered by others?
Our tours are customized to every passenger. We have no script, no route, and our tour is based on the visitor’s interests. We are able to do this because of our extensive experience in and knowledge of Butte. There is no question we can’t answer – so far!! People are so used to a general, canned tour that it is a new experience for many to route their own tour, ask questions, and even interrupt. They appreciate the fact that their tour guide is a working Historical Preservation Architect and former Historic Preservation Officer with 35 years working in Butte.
What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?
In Butte it is absolutely safe to get out of your car and talk to anyone. The locals of Butte love talking to visitors and sharing knowledge and stories, or directing them to restaurants or tours or shops or museums. People are friendly and want to share their town. Go beyond the convenience store clerk.
What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow?
TripAdvisor. After spending thousands of dollars on advertising in every form, with no real return, we discovered TripAdvisor. The reviews have fueled our business. People have a really good sense of what they are going to get. And it targets those experiential travelers that are looking for something custom and unique, not just standard fare.
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?
The sheer joy of sharing our town with visitors who are really interested. People know we are sincere and that we go as far as we can to provide a fantastic experience that will long be remembered. Simply because we want to share.
Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.
Occasionally we have a passenger who grew up in Butte, left, and has come back. Often this is an emotional experience for them, their families, as well as for us. For instance, we had a Butte man who was given an incredible opportunity as an intern in DC by Senator Mike Mansfield, a noteworthy Butte citizen and instrumental US Senator. This opportunity launched this man’s career in business and citizenship, and they remained friends. Mike Mansfield has since passed on. This man was disclosing stories his family had never even heard as he went down memory lane on our tour. He cried at the Mike Mansfield Federal Building. This was a large family with young to old members and he took the microphone and became the tour guide. We welcome and cherish being a part of these experiences and we are grateful that people feel trusting enough to share these stories and emotions with us.