Comeback Mountain

As we head into 2016, I’m going to be tipping my hat to my favorite view

By Diane Smith

Like many places in the valley, our new home in Columbia Falls has a pretty spectacular view. Most days, for as long as we can, we look out our back window at the Flathead River and Columbia Mountain. Since we’re up on a ridge, herons and eagles regularly fly by at eye level. But without a doubt, the most inspirational part of our view is what David and I call Comeback Mountain. You probably call it Teakettle.

The story of Teakettle Mountain is one of near destruction and remarkable recovery. It’s an apt parable for the New Year.

In 1929, Teakettle was burned in the Half Moon Fire, which in less than three days, took out 103,000 acres including a swath of Teakettle and Columbia Mountain.

Then, in the late 1960s Teakettle was being poisoned to death. The Anaconda Company was pumping huge amounts of fluoride into the air each day; these pollutants stripped Teakettle of most of its trees and much of its wildlife.

In 1970, two local attorneys, Dale McGarvey and Frank Morrison filed a class action lawsuit against the Anaconda Company to force it to reduce the pollution that was affecting trees and wildlife all the way to Glacier National Park. They filed the lawsuit after “a local orthodontist named Loren Kreck approached him (McGarvey) with scientific evidence that the plants and wildlife were decomposing because the aluminum plant’s smokestacks were pumping poisonous gas into the air at a rate of 10,000 pounds per day.”

As a result of the lawsuit, the company cleaned up its act and emissions dropped from 10,000 pounds per day to 861 pounds. And Teakettle began its comeback.

Teakettle still doesn’t look like the other mountains. Its scars are visible for miles. To me, that’s the heart of its beauty and inspiration. I’ve been told that today there’s a herd of elk that bed there. Even more promising, each year we see more and more trees fill in the bare spaces. 50 years ago, we might have lost that grand old mountain. Today, the wildlife and the trees are calling it home again. The Anaconda Company is gone and, thanks to a team of committed folks working together, the old plant is undergoing its own remediation, bringing new opportunities to Columbia Falls and the surrounding valley.

If Teakettle can make such a stellar comeback then the seemingly impossible becomes a lot more plausible for the rest of us. So, as we head into 2016, I’m going to be tipping my hat to my favorite view in the valley. Teakettle is a great name, but to me, I’ll be thinking of it – lovingly and reverently – as Comeback Mountain.

Diane Smith is the founder and CEO of American Rural where she works to create greater awareness of the growing opportunities for those who choose to live, work and prosper in rural and small town America. Learn more about Diane by following her column here or visit American Rural at AmericanRural.org.

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