Autumn Duties

Like many locals, I view fall as one of the greatest seasons

By Mike Jopek

After a growing season peppered with extreme heat and little rain followed by a week of hazardously smoky air from regional forest fires, September ushers in a fitting end to summer.

Gratefully the weather conditions improved, yet most wildfires still burn as thousands of brave firefighters are keeping us safer. The fall rains are welcome. On the farm, much produce turned more vibrant even this late in the season.

In many ways I am relieved that the hop cones are harvested from the vines. It’s another sign to the end of a prolonged season. Kids again are attending public schools and many tourists have largely abandoned their quest for vacation.

Like many locals, I view fall as one of the greatest seasons. The days can be filled with the warmth of autumn sun and the nights are frosty cold. The geese and waterfowl began descending on the public lake behind the farm, congregating for the long trip to warmer weather.

In a visual sign of fall, snow temporarily capped Big Mountain. That’s welcome news to anyone like me who likes to ski, recreate outdoors, or appreciates the economic benefit of winter tourism. Yet before winter’s snow arrives, fall allows a breather for locals who still need to attend to those chores.

The fall also signals the traditional beginning of election season. All three cities in the Flathead are electing leaders to move their communities forward. Next month, Whitefish will mail ballots to some 4,000 city dwellers. That’s good news for anyone who thinks that larger voter turnouts matter.

Historically places like Columbia Falls and Kalispell have been plagued with extremely low voter turnout. Hundreds or even a handful of votes can separate a winning candidate from the runner-up, while the number of people casting ballots has remained drearily low.

When I served, I was puzzled by low voter participation. I thought it odd that so many people choose to not vote. Today I understand more as I wonder what on earth are some policymakers thinking? But there is a fundamentally huge difference between local elected officials and those serving in Helena or D.C.

That has everything to do with who engages in public testimony. In Helena, it’s the corporate lobbyists and citizen activists who pave the route to the podium. In Columbia Falls, Kalispell or Whitefish it’s people like your neighbors who offer needed perspectives on the direction of our communities.

In Whitefish, leaders like Richard Hildner and Frank Sweeney have done a great job of listening to people. Hildner and Sweeney are doing their part in a complex city-state relationship to keep local property taxes lower, while steering the community engagement to be friendly. That trust in community matters to anyone who is living in their home.

Whitefish is a small resort community of thousands of voters and hundreds of thousands of visitors. It sets up a dichotomy between those who live and work in our community or have children in local schools, and visitors who drive the businesses that sustain our way of life. It’s a balance we can maintain as long as leaders recognize that many simply live here because they love our town or the great outdoors, and desire peace in community.

On the farm we have many fall chores; yet voting is a duty. Fall municipal elections offer a means to a community that reflects the values on why people live in town.

From most everything that I have seen, heard, and witnessed the Flathead needs more hardworking leaders like Hildner and Sweeney to keep us on the right economic and community track.

Voters have big decisions to make which solidify the path forward. Democracy is, after all, the reason for our freedom. Hopefully you’ll vote.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.