With suntanned shoulders and trail miles accumulated, summer is coming to an end, isn’t it? It’s back to school season and my guess is that parents like myself are approaching the upcoming school year with equal amounts of excitement and trepidation. I’m hopeful that our area school students, teachers, and educational support staff will have a safe, fun, and healthy year. I’m also hopeful that the summer’s angst and ire against unprecedented tourist numbers will also dissipate along with wildfire smoke.
The simmering anger circulating in the Flathead Valley homed in on an increase in everything: traffic, home prices, hotel prices, trailhead users, etc. Job shortages in the service industry have compounded the problem – and as someone who employs kind, intelligent, and driven individuals who work in said industry, the treatment of these workers this summer has been appalling. Who would want to wait tables or cook burgers when they’re treated with scorn by customers? Besides being deeply troubled by this ugliness, I’m also concerned that there’s (another) deep divide happening in our community: so-called locals versus the newcomers or tourists. I think it’d be better for all if we point the fingers at those who can help a community like ours at the height of a monumental transition and make it successful and sustainable for those who are native to this place and those who recently found this place as an ideal location to raise their families or start a business.
My finger is pointed at our elected officials, especially local and at the state level. Their job is to help shape cities, provide services, and make policies to help businesses, individuals, and families thrive. During the last legislative session in Helena, our elected officials overturned many meaningful policies dealing with public health and affordable housing that could have alleviated the mess we’re stewing in. Right now, it’s neighbor against neighbor and that’s not the Montana way. With the explosive growth in the Flathead County, our representatives and county commissioners should be investing, not cutting back, on their budgets to support the infrastructures and services that we need most, especially with such an increase in population occurring during the pandemic. Even before it seemed like everyone moved here, our public library system was bursting at the seams. ImagineIF Library needs the county’s support to help it best serve and house its constituents. Our small businesses need support to help our employees with affordable childcare so we have a stable workforce. Our state government can pitch in here, especially with funding preschool education. The needs list is long, and these are but two examples of what the Flathead Valley needs from its government, on all levels.
I’m not in any position to say who can live here and who can’t. I moved to Montana from somewhere else, too. Drawn by the mountains and open space, I love this place. What breaks my heart is this summer’s bitter rage against those who want to enjoy Glacier or who also want to raise their kids here. Instead of pointing fingers, it’s high time our politicians work for us so that we have the infrastructure in place to support a population boom.
Maggie Doherty is the owner of Kalispell Brewing Company on Main Street.
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