The residents of a Whitefish neighborhood surrounding a pleasant lake with a racist name filed documents in Flathead County District Court earlier this month to officially rename it Lost Loon Lake.
The petition, submitted by the City of Whitefish on behalf of 12 of the 21 lakeshore property owners, is the latest development in a years-long effort to change the name of Lost Coon Lake, citing coon’s use as an offensive slur for African-Americans. And that name, according to court filings, was a “compromise” solution after an initiative began in the 1980s to rename what was then (N-Word) Lake.
“Locals and visitors alike consider the name Lost Coon Lake extremely offensive, as its history and meaning are easily discovered,” the city wrote in the court filing.
Court documents cite Wikipedia and the book “Stump Town to Ski Town” that note the lake’s original name.
The 61-acre lake is adjacent to Whitefish Lake Golf Club and has no public access. The golf course has already been referring to it as Lost Loon Lake on its course map and other signage, according to the filing. WLGC also installed a nesting platform for loons, an aquatic bird found in Northwest Montana, to create a welcoming habitat. Loons had previously been using the lake as a feeding area.
Richard Hildner, a former Whitefish city councilor, said the campaign to change the lake’s name dates back to at least 2015, around the time a visitor sent an email to the Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau saying he was “appalled” upon discovering not just Lost Coon Lake but the lake’s prior name. Hildner and a handful of others, including Whitefish Lake Golf Club General Manager Terry Nelson, then started to figure their way through numerous bureaucratic entanglements that stood in their way but couldn’t quite reach the finish line by the time Hildner left office in January.
“I sat back at, I called it my ‘farewell address’ and I looked at the list of things that were unfinished business,” he said. “And this rose to the very top.”
According to Montana statutes, a hearing at a to-be-determined date will be held to allow for public comment in support or opposition to the proposed name change. Following the hearing, District Judge Dan Wilson will approve or dismiss the application, and if the name change is approved, the secretary of state will receive the name change order in January 2021.
When the lake’s name change is finalized, Hildner and others say their attention will turn to renaming the road that leads to the lake, Lost Coon Trail.