Fort Owen is one of Montana’s most significant historic places—where interaction between American traders and Native Americans date before the Civil War—and it is one of my favorite places, for both its layered history and the beauty of its location. I rarely pass on an opportunity to see how this little place is hanging on in a rapidly suburbanizing part of the state.
From my visit in May 2018, the news is still good. All of Ravalli County is growing like gangbusters (we knew that the recent four-lane US Highway 93 would have that type of impact), but the fort retains a strong sense of place.
The buildings and structures are well maintained, aided immeasurably by the neighboring ranch family who constantly keeps an eye on the place.
The interior of the fort building is solid enough and conveys in its material and design a mid-19th century feel. What needs help, though, are the exhibit panels. They are what I encountered in the mid 1980s, meaning that new research is not reflected in the content nor are they as graphically compelling as, for example, the exhibits at First Nation outside of Great Falls.
Montana State Parks are jewels, but even the most sparkling jewel needs polishing every now and then. It is time to give that new look and due justice to Fort Owen.