For many in Northwest Montana the summer of 2007 is remembered by the numerous forest fires that I’m told had even most of the valley covered with ash and dust for a considerable amount of time. For me, visiting the Flathead for the first time in August, it became a picture of a “northern paradise.”
Stepping out of the plane in Glacier Park International Airport that warm summer day, my memory is of clean air, not of ash. But, then again, just hours prior I left one of the largest cities in the Carolinas. I left the smog. The traffic. The congestion. The noise. And, now, I’m staring at a mountain range that takes up most of my camera frame! Amazing!
My dad was there to greet me. He and my mom had purchased some land in Somers and were in the process of clearing it for the foundation of their home. He decided to take the “scenic route” to Somers – which is funny to me, because around here is there a “non-scenic route?”
Cruising down to Bigfork allowed me to grab glimpses of the massively beautiful Flathead Lake. “Oh my gosh,” was my remark, I believe, as my eyes opened up to the body of water that just glowed! And, of course, from Bigfork to Somers, staring at the lake, I wondered if it ever ended.
Flathead County is no stranger to wonder. I know this because now I’m a resident of downtown Kalispell, and whether I’m talking to a stranger or a best friend I’m more than likely sharing my enthusiasm for my surroundings, of which I’m convinced cannot be completely explored in a lifetime.
With over 260 nearby lakes – yes, OVER TWO HUNDRED SIXTY LAKES, numerous state parks (combined with liberal camping and recreation policies), nine beautiful golf courses, two great ski resorts, and one very incredible national park that borders our county, this area is a pure blessing to those who love to explore their outdoors! What I appreciate most about our recreational opportunities is there is something for everyone here, no matter the pace. From leisurely strolls on one of our numerous Rails-to-Trails paved paths, or whitewater rafting down the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, this valley covers all experience levels. Lone Pine State Park is a personal favorite of mine, offering rugged trails for the extreme, and pleasurable scenic overlooks for the relaxed.
Flathead County’s crisp air provides a heavenly atmosphere for outdoor sports enthusiasts and backyard picnics. Even jumping in the convertible or on the bike and cruising around Flathead Lake becomes a magical journey – just be sure your eyes spend more time on the road, and not the lake!
And, as if the majesty of the mountains, valleys, and water bodies isn’t enough, Flathead County also boasts in its most prized possession: its people. This became obvious to me in May of 2008 as I was traveling back through the state on a cross-country road trip with my brother. Toward the end of our travel day we decided to fill up the car so we could get an early start and hope to see the Pacific while the sun was still up. As the car was filling up in Lakeside, Chris and I pulled the map out and sat down for a minute on the outdoor table. Our fingers were debating over the proposed highway travel when a voice interrupted us. “Boys, you really aughta take Highway 2, head up to the Yaak!”
Confused, a little, by what “the Yaak” meant, I asked this kind, rugged man to explain. He gave us route directions (which, yes, included “turn by the Dirty Shame,” which I later learned was a bar in the Yaak … famous for a multitude of reasons, even out here) that promised to be an unforgettable spectacle! And, he was right!
Sure, good people are present in every state. They’re not exclusive to Montana. And, just because a guy took a minute to give some directions doesn’t make him good, nor does it make him exclusive to Montana. But, because he was willing to share what was so precious to him about this area, so willfully and so easily, he stood out to me. Where I’m from, during the summer time, the beach (which is responsible for almost all of your recreational opportunity) becomes like the western fields of the pioneering days: get up early, grab your fence posts, and plot out your spot! If you don’t hit the beach early and mark your spot, you ain’t gettin’ one! And, as a former local, I don’t recall giving out much helpful information to others!
It’s different here. The access is better – and, chances are, you don’t need buckets of quarters for some hungry meter! The opportunities for exploration are endless! There’s an adventure around every corner. And, the people are quick to support such ambition. That’s amazing to me! That’s Montana.
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