Uncommon Ground

Political Rapprochement

Someday soon, voters will reconcile politics and send people to the state Legislature who align with local priorities

By Mike Jopek

The view was fantastic, offering a stunning scene of Whitefish Lake below. The haze just beginning to smoke on the horizon. I could see the lake near our farm. It was many years since I was here prior, I thought. The Holbrook Overlook was largely lost to the public ever since the Big Mountain Road was rerouted a decade and a half prior.

The overlook sits on Forest Service public land, uphill, past the Big Mountain trailhead. The historic site and new trails are again open. Holbrook will quickly become a valuable part of the public recreation infrastructure surrounding the ever-evolving resort town of Whitefish. 

I’m proud of our towns, the people in our communities who continue to make them great places, a better valley. It takes hard work to make big stuff happen. My experiences over the decades of working with others reaffirm that locals aren’t scared of work. We’re grateful to live here. There’s no place we’d rather be.

“Hey kids,” was all I heard to recognize the voice that came from the helmeted biker standing over his cycle outside the grocery store as we walked into the hazing sun holding a gallon of milk and some dish detergent. We chatted about nothing, as friends do, when seeing another local in town. 

Andy is one of the many reasons why the public trail system and land conservation around Whitefish evolved to be successful over the decades. A generation ago, Mayor Andy and Senator Dan believed in a better way, when few thought it plausible. 

I naively thought it’d take a few years to complete. Two decades later, the city and townspeople are perusing the next public recreational use easement encompassing Smith Lake. 600 acres of state public lands are organized for conservation, forest management, family friendly recreation, and water access.

Many lakes away, on the farm, it’s been quite the growing season. Can’t say I’ve seen one like it, though they’re all different. This one was rather intense, following the growing trend over the years that cap seasons with choking smoke throughout the valley. Everyone hopes it blows off. Some rain would be calming and welcome. It’s so dry, a foot down into the earth, we’ll take any moisture we can get.

This is the fall, a time for locals to get outdoors. Andy said it was the best season. We agreed. It finally cooled a bit. Not too cold yet. The best time of year to get it done outdoors. For me, there’s a lot work around the farm before winter rolls and a consequential election heads our way faster than the holidays. And I want back up to Holbrook.

Everyone is busy. You can see it, on people’s faces, the way we move, work. Fall is here, the kids are back to school and the leaves turning. Won’t be long now until the ground is scattered with yellow needles from majestic tamaracks lining the mountains above the lakes of the valley.

I thought back to all the good that I’ve seen throughout the valley over the decades. The good that people made happen, not by fighting, or incessantly bickering, but rather working together through the hard stuff to secure value for generations to come. 

Holbrook reopened because people believed it would reopen. The Forest Service made it happen. The city has proven a good and steadfast steward of the public’s right to recreate outdoors, in a growing town that remains a part of who we are as a community. 

Someday soon, voters will reconcile politics and send people to the state Legislature who align with local priorities and work together to help make our communities even more livable. I’m optimistic that day returns next month as ballots arrive in the mail.

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