At the Beacon, whenever we look back at all the stories we covered over the previous year, we’re always surprised by what we’ve forgotten and can rediscover. There are features on teacher shortages; the return of free-roaming bison; and “one of the most bizarre and obscure chapters of modern warfare.” Here is some of our best work from 2023.
The Greatest Good
As land managers grapple with unprecedented demand for new recreation uses on the Flathead National Forest, a growing segment of the public is raising conservation concerns while a perceived lack of transparency erodes their faith in the agency
Hanging on the conference room wall inside the Flathead National Forest headquarters in Kalispell is a framed plaque inscribed with a quote from Gifford Pinchot, the first-ever chief of the U.S. Forest Service whose maxims promote the spirit of effective public land management and have served as a guiding star for generations of foresters in public office. Read more
The Party Faithful
Former Governor Marc Racicot stepped out of retirement to warn Montanans about threats to democracy. Now, the Republican Party he once knew is cutting ties with him.
From where former Governor Marc Racicot sits on a sunny Wednesday afternoon at his home outside of Missoula, the world of Montana politics looks more unrecognizable than he ever could have imagined. Read more
A local boy and his family share their experience with a pediatric cancer diagnosis and the lessons in living that came with it
There’s no simple way to explain what the last year-and-a-half has been like for the Reichenbergs. Over that time period, the Kalispell family of three — five if you count its two beloved canine members, Percy the pug and Smudge the German Shepherd mix — have been navigating the experience of a pediatric cancer diagnosis. Read more
System in Neglect
As rising operating costs and chronic staffing shortages shutter mental health facilities locally and statewide, a decade of stagnant Medicaid reimbursement rates has forced state lawmakers to start crafting solutions
A year-and-a-half ago when the five-bed crisis stabilization facility at the Western Montana Mental Health Center (WMMHC) closed in Kalispell due to a staffing shortage, officials with the organization were hopeful they could fill the positions and reopen quickly. Known as the Glacier House, the facility offered some of the only in-patient services in the Flathead Valley for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, including those describing suicidal ideations and requiring intensive behavioral health interventions. Read more
To Pave or Not to Pave
Along the primitive and pot-holed North Fork Road, residents are split on how to address the wear and tear on an increasingly busy corridor bordering Glacier National Park
Bob Graham doesn’t know exactly how many miles he’s logged on the gravel North Fork Road but estimating “more than a half-million miles” over the course of his 30 years of owning property in the rural scenic community doesn’t seem hyperbolic. Read more
A Constitution at a Crossroads
The Montana Legislature introduced a record number of constitutional amendments this session. Nearly all of them are failing to make it on the ballot.
As the delegates of the Montana Constitutional Convention filled the well of the Montana House of Representatives on Monday, Nov. 29, 1971, joining State Supreme Court justices, elected officials and the leadership of the 1971 House and Senate, the University of Montana Concert Band played a medley of American overtures. Read more
How Lincoln County’s ‘Big Lie’ Upended an Election Department
All three election officials in the northwest Montana county have resigned in frustration, joining the national ranks of beleaguered administrators quitting their jobs amid baseless claims of voter fraud from county leaders and their constituents
On the morning of June 8, 2022, all eyes were on the Lincoln County Elections Department as the primary race for Montana’s western congressional district hung in the balance. Read more
Stranded Glacier National Park Hiker Shares Story of Survival and Hope
After slipping off a snow-covered trail in Glacier National Park and losing both shoes, 19-year-old Matthew Read hunkered down in a tree shelter for three nights and awaited his rescue. When help finally came, he was overcome with relief.
When a Glacier National Park ranger called Barbara Read on Sunday, May 7, to explain that a car belonging to her 19-year-old son, Matthew, had been found at the Huckleberry Lookout Trailhead with no trace of its owner, she panicked. Read more
‘To a Clean and Healthful Environment’
When voters ratified Montana’s constitution in 1972, they enshrined a citizen’s right to a clean and healthful environment into the future. The youth-led climate change lawsuit Held v. Montana is predicated on this right and its interpretation through Montana’s courts.
In the 1962 travelogue “Travels with Charley,” John Steinbeck writes about crossing America in a camper truck accompanied by his standard poodle. When he reached Montana for the first time, he declared his love for the state. Read more
‘One of the Most Bizarre and Obscure Chapters of Modern Warfare’
Historians estimate that Japan launched about 9,300 balloons at the height of World War II, each carrying about 800 pounds of bombs. About 300 were sighted or found in North America, with 32 balloon bombs turning up in Montana, including one in Kalispell.
On a cold early winter day in December 1944, Oscar and Owen Hill, father and son, were cutting wood in the Truman Creek area about 17 miles southwest of Kalispell when they discovered what at first appeared to be a cream-colored parachute. The object, later determined to be a balloon, featured Japanese writing and a rising-sun symbol. Read more
Blackfeet Bring Bison Home to Chief Mountain
Tribal members hailed the return of wild free-roaming buffalo to Indigenous land as an expression of sovereignty and the beginning of a cultural and ecological renaissance
A brazen bison calf was the first to clamber off the livestock trailer and into the shadow of Chief Mountain, where for a few wobbly moments it stood alone, blinking uncertainly at a sprawling ancestral homeland that hasn’t supported a herd of wild buffalo for 150 years. An instant later, in a thunderclap of hooves, the russet-coated calf was joined by two dozen of its shaggier, surer-footed compatriots, their dark humps heaving against the square, sacred massif that dominates the horizon of their new home on the range. Read more
In the Flathead Valley, the Homeless Crisis is at a Crossroads
The violent death of 60-year-old Scott Bryan forced a reckoning in the northwest Montana community, where the loss of critical mental health resources has intensified the plight of unsheltered individuals
When Kalispell Police Department (KPD) officers found Scott Bryan in the parking lot of a Conoco gas station in the middle of the night on June 25, he was lying face down, he was covered in blood and his nasal cavity was crushed. The frail, 60-year-old homeless man who was battling cancer and a variety of other health conditions had, allegedly, just been beaten into unconsciousness by a Kalispell teenager. He was pronounced dead at the hospital less than an hour later. Read more
Swimming Into the Unknown
Laura Chenier became the first known person to swim the widest width of Flathead Lake, a 16-mile feat that took more than 10 hours
Somewhere off the shore of Wild Horse Island, Laura Chenier fell into a rhythm. Suspended horizontally on the surface of Flathead Lake, Chenier moved through the water with a slow freestyle kick, tilting her head to the side every third stroke of her arms to take a breath of smoky air. Read more
To Defund or Defend?
Amid congressional efforts to defund Glacier National Park’s vehicle reservation system, park administrators and stakeholders defend it as an adaptive tool that has evolved based on public feedback
For Dave Roemer to travel back in time, he has only to step out of his office at 3 p.m. and walk a block to West Glacier. From that vantage, he can glimpse the gridlock that subsumed Glacier National Park’s management team prior to his appointment as superintendent. Read more
‘Who’s Going to Teach My Kid?’
Stagnant salaries, high housing costs and a souring public opinion around education have made it difficult for school districts to recruit and retain teachers. This fall, the Flathead Valley’s public schools are feeling the effects.
After Lakeside Elementary School found itself without a single special education teacher ahead of the 2023-24 school year, the school’s principal, Steffanie Broyles, moved her office into one of the special education classrooms. That way, students could come to Broyles for extra support as substitute teachers oversaw the classrooms once staffed by certified special education professionals. District administrators hoped it would be a temporary solution that would buy more time to find qualified teachers without letting students down. Read more
The New Guard of Glacier Mountaineering
For more than 40 years, the Glacier Mountaineering Society has helped its members explore the farthest reaches of Glacier National Park while promoting an ethic of stewardship and safety. Now, following the recent deaths of some of its most dedicated members, the next generation of climbers is taking up the mantle.
Piloting his car up the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Keegan Siebenaler, 23, riffs on housing policy initiatives, clean energy and politics with the same rhythmic fluidity that he employs while rapping along with the Kendrick Lamar track bumping through his Bluetooth, but he quiets as the summit pinnacle of Mount Reynolds swings into view. Read more
How the automobile arrived in Glacier National Park and changed one of America’s most beloved preserves forever
On the morning of May 2, 1911, Frank Whalen, Frank D. Stoop and T.J. Koenig drove from their home in Kalispell to Glacier National Park. Today, that seemingly simple feat takes about 45 minutes — depending on traffic, of course — but in 1911, it took wheelman Whalen an excruciating nine hours to cover the 40 or so miles between the county seat and the west entrance. While U.S. Highway 2 between these two points is now four lanes in some spots, back then the road to Glacier wasn’t much wider than a goat trail. In fact, the “road” didn’t even extend all the way to West Glacier (known simply as Belton back then); once the trio reached Lake Five near Coram, they had to drive alongside the Great Northern Railway tracks to traverse the final few miles to the park. Read more
Ten Years of Two Bear
Serving the Flathead Valley and beyond since 2014, Two Bear Air’s world-class search-and-rescue service and its suite of high-tech equipment has transformed the region into the last best place to get lost and found
Two Bear Air first launched almost a decade ago after an experienced pilot named Jim Bob Pierce and a group of SAR technicians pitched the idea of a rescue helicopter to Whitefish philanthropist Mike Goguen. Read more
In Search of the Flathead Lake Monster
Sixty-eight years ago, a big fish purportedly caught in the waters of Flathead Lake wowed crowds, sparked a lawsuit that ended up at the Montana Supreme Court and fueled the legend of the elusive Flathead Lake Monster
It was about 9 p.m. on a Friday night when the 160-pound-test nylon line on Leslie Griffith’s large fishing reel began to sing the opening stanza in what would become a colorful, controversial chapter in the lore of Flathead Lake. In the days that followed that evening in late May 1955, Griffith would unspool a fish story reminiscent of a Hemingway novel. Read more
The Wild Women of the Wild Mile
As the Bigfork Whitewater Festival rises in popularity among whitewater kayakers, a new generation of female paddlers are proving themselves on the Wild Mile, empowering each other and promoting a whitewater community in Northwest Montana
At age 12, Darby McAdams headed out to the Frenchtown Pond outside of Missoula with her dad and a 16-foot fiberglass kayak that her grandfather made in the 1970s. Her dad, Shaun McAdams, had spent much of his adult life floating rivers in a kayak, and he hoped to pass the sport down to his daughter. He set out to teach Darby how to roll a kayak – a technique used by boaters to flip themselves right-side up when they tip over while running rivers. Read more
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