Uncommon Ground

Bring the Rain

Only together will our lakes remain clean, our trails open and our public land protected for generations

By Mike Jopek

We sat outside at Jersey Boys Pizzeria, in downtown Whitefish, next to the central school. Kids scurried past, heading inside. Many of the younger children were masked. They carried items like flutes, clarinets, trumpets, and drum sticks. Parents joined the kids. It looked festive, felt resilient.

Downtown was busy. People were everywhere, some new in town, sporting urban attire. Everyone seemed happy hurrying about, as others strolled with kids. Thousands of people recently moved into the valley. Their fresh-eyed faces seem just as happy as we are to live here. Many locals still recall the wonderment of their own first time in the Flathead.

The pandemic-era newcomers seem about as joyful as the locals who’ve moved here over the centuries. It’s a fantastic valley, full of opportunity and plenty of seemingly insurmountable challenges like housing and childcare.

Our slices arrived. They looked really good. We ate them traditional style while watching a vibrant downtown in action. Downtown felt as good as ever, yet underneath lingered that uncertainty of the pandemic and hastened migration of Americans it brought to the valley.

Any uncertainty didn’t stop the thousand runners who participated at the Whitefish Marathon. The pictures posted online at the Beacon looked very happy, with people smiling. Many people traveled far to participate in the outdoor event.

Outdoors is again green thanks to much-needed rain, which fell hard over the past week. The precipitation added growth to the farm, shades of green to the landscape, and brightened fur on young deer. 

Newcomers are getting a good taste of our great Montana living as well as our unpredictable weather. We’ve got a lot to teach each other as we all live in the Flathead. Our climate remains as unreliable as our rivers strong.

The Flathead economy and our quality of life are interwoven within the outdoors. People choose to live in places like Whitefish because of our great public amenities like schools, trails and conservation, mountains, access to clean water, and yes that fast internet. 

Locals worked hard over many decades to assure our towns are livable, key lands permanently conserved, and access to our historic waterways and mountains open for recreation. 

Our highway strips are filling up to look much like anywhere America, only with a scenic backdrop. Whitefish now finds itself faced with a familiar quagmire of questions that previously plagued Kalispell and Columbia Falls on how best to expand public services like sewer and water onto the highway strip.

Whitefish was recently dubbed one of the friendliest places in America with outstanding public schools. People continue to flock here from across our nation, and it’s easy to understand why. The community has done a great job of making our town attractive and livable. 

Valley wide, housing and childcare remain huge obstacles facing working families. Only bold decisionmakers can assure working locals remain viable in a rapidly changing and selective Flathead economy.

More people will arrive. Our fast internet and great public amenities make us very attractive to the millions of urban Americans relocating nationwide. The newcomers are here to stay and can afford to pay top dollar for housing and childcare. 

There’s no going back. We’re in it now. It’s up to locals to welcome the packs of newcomers descending upon our small towns and show our respect of the Great Outdoors, which energizes our local economy and humanity. Only together will our lakes remain clean, our trails open and our public land protected for generations.

We finished our slices of pizza and wandered downtown a bit. Soon we hustled into our automobile and drove the minutes through traffic back onto the farm, where the bustle of downtown was muffled in the nestle of chokecherries.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.