Step Up

2020 doesn’t need many more cynics or critics

By Mike Jopek

It’s a rainy January day and the birch I uncovered earlier from the shed is producing a good, steady heat from the woodstove.

I plowed the sloppy wet snow off the driveway. The weather says that it’s going to get cold. Up on the hill in Whitefish, I bet it’s good skiing. Our mountain enjoys a solid reputation for snowfall.

Twenty-four hours away on an airplane, in Australia, it looks bad on the news and social media. That part of the world is on fire. Flames bigger that anyone’s seen. It’s just bloody hot and dry. Sadly, not enough leaders in leadership care enough to do much of anything to prevent future natural disasters.

Last summer in the Flathead seemed OK. The heat, smoke, and wildfires weren’t bad. But that’s the thing; one doesn’t really know when it’s bloody hot, which forestland or rangelands will get hit next, whose air may become un-breathable, or when the rains will finally come.

I try not to worry about it. I know it weighs heavy on the younger generation. Winter in the Flathead can be harsh enough without bringing up summer problems. But as one of our farm clients likes to say, “I’m not complaining, I’m explaining.”

It’s a subtle and clever distinction. There is plenty to grumble about, the list is endless. Where would one even start?

I’d start with how lawmakers in Helena can’t figure out that property taxes for people living in their homes are ridiculously high.

Places like Whitefish are allowed to use 25 percent of the taxes collected from tourists to reduce property taxes within the city, places like Kalispell are not. Columbia Falls is deciding what it wants to do, having met resort status. Rural Flathead feels ambivalent.

2020 doesn’t need many more cynics or critics. That role is full. The new year needs some vision from you. We lead the state.

The tri-cities of the Flathead maintained our growth momentum for decades. After that economic catastrophe, more than a decade ago, we’re back. The Flathead economy is humming. A lot of people, yet hardly everyone, have it real good.

Places like Whitefish, Columbia Falls and Kalispell offer people real opportunity to succeed and to give back to the community. Some of that giving back is volunteer time, a pocketful of it is your hard earned money donated to local nonprofits, and certain portions require public participation to guide our great valley.

America needs civil discourse. Words and kindness can make big stuff happen. It takes a lot of willing people to engage the process. Living and working in the same big valley reminds locals of the values we share.

2020 Flathead needs your help; it’s time to engage. Get active locally in the things you care about whether its family, theater, wildlife, conservation, recreation, education, water, parks, libraries, sidewalks, health care, land use planning, church, or making sure that hungry kids and neighbors have access to good food.

Prove me wrong, but I think you’ll find the same thing that I’ve found through the decades of public engagement, that a lot of people also feel strongly about community. Their values, like your values, are similarly attached to this place we call home, the Flathead, regardless of any political leanings.

We love places like Whitefish, Columbia Falls, Kalispell, and the Flathead. It’s why we live here, why we work here, and why we raise our families here.

We expect a high quality of life. It’s why every one of the millions of tourists that annually visits our hometowns likely wants to move here, or at least questions why they live in places like San Diego or New York City.

We got it good. If you want to keep it, step up. It’s your time.

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