After years of lobbying and hard work, the long-dreamed-of rail trail through downtown Kalispell is about to become a reality. In 2019, the last freight trains rumbled through town on 2 miles of track put down more than a century ago. Since then, civic leaders have been working with the Federal Railroad Administration and the Montana Department of Transportation to replace the tracks with a trail that will connect Woodland Park with Meridian Road. Kalispell Downtown Association Executive Director Pam Carbonari said, if everything goes according to plan, the trail will be built this year. We caught up with Carbonari to learn more. The interview has been edited for clarity.
FL: How will this new trail change downtown Kalispell and spur development?
PC: The railroad tracks have long divided our downtown. With the track removal, new opportunities will emerge. People will invest, jobs will be created, traditional downtown Kalispell will grow, creating new investment and continued economic success for all of the businesses in the district. When the tracks come out, people will be able to move freely and, in fact, will be drawn from the east side and west side on bikes and on foot — they will find themselves in the center of the community. People will meet and greet, and maybe even feel a little twinge of community pride in our town.
FL: What will downtown Kalispell look like in 10 years, 20 years?
PC: I don’t have the ability to see the future, but I do believe that we will continue to have pride in our past. Many of our buildings are on the National Historic Register, and with programs like the downtown façade improvement program, owners are encouraged to maintain and invest in the buildings. With the assistance of an additional grant from the Montana Department of Commerce, secured by the Business Improvement District, we hope that this summer the city council will adopt some new standards to help investors and property owners recognize the significance of their buildings when remodeling, upgrading or building new.
We will continue to see transportation upgrades in Kalispell. Many of those upgrades will change the flow of traffic in and around Kalispell. Downtown will benefit from upgrades to the U.S. Highway 93 Bypass, the reconstruction of Main Street and the addition of future bike lanes, all helping to create a more inviting downtown experience.
FL: What’s your favorite way to spend an afternoon in Kalispell?
PC: There are many opportunities throughout the entire city, but downtown holds a special place in my heart. A perfect afternoon in Kalispell would begin with a delicious lunch at one of our incredible downtown restaurants. After a delectable lunch, I would stroll, do a little window shopping and buying of course! After having walked off my lunch, I believe a massage would be in order, and maybe a pedicure. The next stop would be a glass of wine or a local beer and hopefully the good fortune to hear a little music and to interact with a few friends or interesting visitors.
Check out the Business Improvement District and Downtown Kalispell Association website at www.downtownkalispell.com for information about what is happening downtown: events, information about downtown businesses and opportunities for building owners and investors. See you in downtown Kalispell!