State of the Rhubarb

Suddenly Gladys’ rhubarb will be tall and tart, strong like the local economy

By Mike Jopek

We pulled back the bulging leaves covering the ground. Underneath the stalks were pink, some white, almost translucent, and others barely red. The leaves attached to the stalks were deep orange, wrinkled, not-of-this-world looking. I like springtime.

We’ve been growing an Alaskan variety of rhubarb for nearly three decades.

Gladys brought a crown to Whitefish from up north, way back when. She dug it up from the first governor of Alaska’s yard. I’m pretty sure former Gov. William Egan gave it to her.

Today we grow hundreds of feet of the big-leaf veggie. Old-timers love it. A lot of youngsters don’t quite know what to do with the tart stalks. Try pie.

Rhubarb is a northern crop. It won’t come back in hot places, down south. It likes the cold country, enjoys a good freeze, much like those of us who choose to live in northern climates like the Flathead.

I attended the annual Whitefish State of the City address to see Mayor John Muhlfeld and City Manager Adam Hammatt talk about what’s going on in town.

I hadn’t spent much time at the new City Hall, though I’ve used the adjoining parking garage plenty. In years past, I frequented the old City Hall as I chaired public committees that dealt with local land use and housing.

I was surprised to learn how both new structures, City Hall and the parking garage, will be paid off next July. That’s impressive, a good signal that the city is doing right by taxpayers.

I love my town. It’s why we live here. I’m not alone in wanting to assure our hometown remains our home.

Whitefish may be facing big issues but it knows it must act on concerns facing the people who live and run businesses in town.

During the address I heard that most of the Whitefish workforce lives outside of town in places like Columbia Falls or rural Flathead.

It may feel like it’s too late. Yet Whitefish has been steadily working with the local Housing Authority and community at large. Townsfolk came together. It’s not over. It won’t be easy. There’s much ahead. Not much worthy seems easy.

The Flathead is found. Some 3 million people visit our 1-million-acre national park every year. Well over 1 million people travel through Whitefish annually.

It’s only the beginning. The Flathead better keep planning and maintaining infrastructure. The people are coming. I hope they’re friendly, generous.

The USDA lists the Flathead as one of 239 counties in the nation with a recreation-based economy. There’s plenty of other important work. Yet people who visit the Flathead crave the great outdoors, our way of life, the open space, clean water, and close access to good recreational opportunities.

It’s fitting that a portion of Whitefish’s successful resort tax pays for thousands of acres of conservation easements on the forestland where residents source their drinking water.

Many people locally, statewide and nationally helped assure that conservation remains a part of the Whitefish economy. So far 19,000 acres of private and public forestlands surrounding town chose to forever retire the development rights off their land.

Yet inside Whitefish, the economy saw a booming $53 million worth of new construction last year.

Over the southern edge of town, the newest emerging commercial strip may soon feel much like what local drivers see and experience elsewhere in the Flathead. The county should upgrade their planning for the area. Traffic moves very fast coming into and out of town.

On the farm, I’m planning for the soil to warm up. It’s still cold. There’s plenty of snow on the hill. But it won’t be long. Spring turns to summer. Crops will grow. Suddenly Gladys’ rhubarb will be tall and tart, strong like the local economy.

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