The people of the greater Whitefish area are united in our love for the land and water. From Happy Valley to Big Mountain, around the lake, and all along the Whitefish range we share a common bond. We love our hills, lakes, and streams. We are truly grateful to the heart of downtown, to aquatic centers, ice rinks, theaters and the skate parks.
We are blessed to golf at the south end of Whitefish Lake and to disc golf at the north. To ride bikes and horses at Spencer, swim at Les Mason, fish at Beaver, enjoy great snow on the hill, and ski and hunt in Haskill and the Stillwater. It increases our quality of life and it’s great for our economy.
Folks like myself who live in the greater area, just outside Whitefish proper, are lucky that our school districts and planning districts are similar in shape and size because a stable tax base is good for business, local education and emergency services.
We all want to do right by the area, because it’s our home. It’s where our families live and our kids go to school. Cooperatively, we’ve spent years developing a public trail system which envelopes our town. It is the path that connects city dwellers and rural residents.
It’s time to talk with our neighbors, to find solutions to how we govern. Other areas have been very successful with home rule concepts of townships. It’s where rural neighborhoods elect members to be seated on the city council in a cooperative effort. It’s but one idea, with a spark of individuality brought forward by the Whitefish City Council at the first meeting of the year.
It’s nice to see the new council moving on these ideas. They should be applauded for their efforts, as compromise is truly the art of community. Giving rural folks a greater say on how and when their neighborhoods are developed or when roads are improved is good for property rights and good for community.
Whitefish is fortunate that its citizens enacted home rule authority back many years ago, giving it the ability to work on these types of ideas. While I am happy to enact better rural representation through the Legislature, any solution from Helena would no doubt have to also work for areas like Bigfork and small towns of eastern Montana where services are in dire need.
As the simple concept of breathing often refreshes our minds and calms our soul, so is it important for us to focus on those issues that unite us. To remember that our kids go to the same schools, we shop at the same stores, and eat out at the same restaurants, planning for growth in the overall Whitefish area is in our best interest.
Whitefish is blessed to have good citizens and elected officials in the county willing to work with Whitefish. Fighting serves no one. As the folks of Whitefish, both urban and rural continue to talk, we should embrace a climate of compromise.
Let’s not forget and learn from the things we’ve done wrong and remember the ones that we’ve gotten right. The solutions are quite simple: talk to each other, love and respect our neighbors. And to the visionaries who keep our valley united, our bonds strong and our families together, I say “thank you.” You are the true heroes.
Mike Jopek is a Whitefish Democratic state legislator
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