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Uncommon Ground

Trust What You Know

Every day newcomers arrive with fresh ideas on how the Flathead should best progress and who governs the way we grow

By Mike Jopek

The leaves on the birches, aspens, and hawthorns turned yellow. Chokecherries were topped in red. Most of the berries had been devoured by songbirds over the past weeks. Soon the larch needles turn.

The black bear must have squatted in the crook of the tree and eaten pears for hours. The damage the brute did to the tree was notable. Plenty of fruit remained by morning and the tree was opened up way more than I ever dared prune. Next year, the air will pass through.

The nighttime weather turned cold, like one expects of fall. It’d been a long, too-hot summer. I picked the other trees bare. I didn’t blame the bear for hunger or eating, the fault was mine. Didn’t put up an electric fence soon enough. Though, the bear could act less callous with old-time trees.

Our neighborhoods are rapidly changing. There are lots of new gates, latest cameras, and miles of fresh fence flashing shiny “no trespassing” signs. The people keep arriving, leaving anywhere America for a better, rural life. Can’t blame anyone for wanting to live, work, and raise a family in the Flathead.

Everywhere in the Flathead remains under construction. It’s good money for workers and lucky investors. Regardless, employees can’t afford to own a home in the valley any longer. Change occurred quickly. Ask any local who’s been around a bit.

We drove behind the fairgrounds to retrieve a purchase off the secondary market. It was helpful to see how many new apartments were recently built in the area. It looked nice. The parking lots were full of newer cars.

Every day newcomers arrive with fresh ideas on how the Flathead should best progress and who governs the way we grow. It’s an exciting time. Feels familiar to many locals who’ve seen it before. What’s newer today is how most local wage earners cannot afford to buy a home. And rent, have you seen how much that costs lately? Wow.

In many places around towns people feel the integrity of existing neighborhoods are being challenged by rapidly changing state laws, promising to deliver more and faster development with less local input. Folks who’ve lived in neighborhoods their entire lives, raised families, are witnessing big changes in places that were once promised as built-out.

Longtime locals who serve on city councils throughout the valley hold positions of trust for our communities. Councilors like Frank Sweeney in Whitefish, Ryan Hunter in Kalispell, and John Piper in Columbia Falls do lots of good by listening to their community during times of big, often turbulent change.

Sweeney, Hunter, and Piper have lived here a long while, earned trust the old-fashioned way. Each of the three councilors reduced local property taxes for their respective communities even as the state portion of taxes, that large chunk which the Montana Legislature levies though laws, is set to dramatically increase for local homeowners.

Sweeney, Hunter, and Piper are practical with taxpayer dollars, respectful of people, and work with diverse viewpoints when big development comes to town seeking to invest in existing neighborhoods, places locals call home, often for generations.

Trust what you know my friends. Sweeney in Whitefish, Hunter in Kalispell, and Piper in Columbian Falls are proven leaders. Our towns are great because the people who live, work, and raise families here also love our communities. Vote for the people who have proven leadership, time and time again. Remember, leaders can’t win if you don’t vote.

The sweet-toothed bear seems likely to return next fall. It likes the fruit. Happy to share, some anyway, but not willing to let that brute destroy the trees which have taken decades to mature. Might have to put up a hot wire next fall, hope not.

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