DILLON — Often endearingly referred to as "the cow pasture", Vigilante Stadium harkens back to a bygone era of football.
The natural grass home of the Dillon Beavers and Montana Western Bulldogs was originally built in 1949, just as the NFL was beginning to phase out leather helmets.
There may be a wealth of history and memories entrenched in the field, but the hard — and obvious — truth is that Vigilante Stadium is a woefully outdated venue for a modern college football program.
Taking a large step toward making the dream of an on-campus turf field a reality, Western announced on Wednesday that it had secured $2.2 million toward that goal. That amount is roughly half of the estimated $4- 5 million required to construct the field and stands in what Western administrators hope is the first part of a multi-phase sports complex.
"Having an on-campus stadium has been a dream of Western's," said head football coach Ryan Nourse, who first stepped onto Vigilante Stadium as a Western player in the 1990s. "It's a great opportunity, not just for our football program, but our university and our community to have a first-class facilility.
The goal now is to raise the rest of the money over the next year. Once that funding has been secured, ground can be broken.
"This complex will positively impact the student-life experience for all current and future Bulldogs at Montana Western," said athletic director Michael Feuling in a press release.
The sports complex is set to be built on a 14-acre parcel of land adjacent to Straugh Gymnasium. The concept rendering calls for the parking lot east of Keltz Arenz to be extended southward, adding about 100 parking spots. Directly to the west of that extended parking lot will be a new practice field. To the east of that new parking lot will be a plaza and then a new turf field with stands seating over 2,000 spectators. Beyond the new field will be approximately 100 tailgating spots.
The land was pledged to Western by John and Phyllis Erb in 2019 on the condition that $2 million be raised before the land would officially be deeded to Western.
A recent $1 million donation from Jim and Sarah Kennedy — who have a residence in southwest Montana — lifted Western's funding over that $2 million threshold, officially giving the university ownership of the land.
For Nourse, there's been a lot of memories made at Vigilante Stadium, including the Bulldogs earning a share of the Frontier title this past season. But he knows that the future of his program is dependent on moving into a contemporary stadium, and he's confident that the Dillon community and beyond will help Western reach its ultimate fundraising goal.
"People believe in Western, people believe in our football program," Nourse said. "There's no question about that. Western's made a big impact in the state of Montana."