As I traveled Flathead County in 2015 certainly my attention was on the growth and change in Kalispell, Bigfork, and Whitefish, and the suburban sprawl that was increasingly connecting those towns. But I also looked for rural institutions and places–did places such as the Smith Valley Grange on U. S. Highway 2 west of Kalispell still stand–was it still a grange meeting hall?
The answer was yes, to both questions. Here is an early 20th century log building landmark on a highway where the traffic seems to never end. It is also along the corridor of a new recreational system–the Great Northern Rails to Trails linear park that uses an old railroad corridor to connect the city to the country in Flathead County.
The trail allows bikers to see the rural landscape, still dotted with family farms, of the Smith Valley as it stretches west to Kila, where the old Cottage Inn has been converted in the last few years into the Kila Pub, complete with the Arts and Crafts/Tudor theme associated with the railroad corridor.
To the southeast of Kalispell is another rural corridor, defined by Montana Highway 206 which is a connector between U.S. Highway 2 at Columbia Falls and Bigfork. No doubt some ranches have given way to development, but open vistas and historic barns still serve as reminders of the agricultural traditions of the county.
To the north of Kalispell and Whitefish U.S. Highway 93 takes you past the ski developments into a thick forested area, managed in part as the Stillwater State Forest.
In 1984 I noted the state forest headquarters, an interesting array of 1930s log and frame functional buildings. The headquarters is now part of the National Register of Historic Places, as the Stillwater State Forest Ranger Station. The distinctive log buildings date
from the 1920s into the 1960s. While several are from the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s, state ranger Pete De Groat built his log residence in 1928 in the Rustic Style. Stillwater was Montana’s first state forest.
Olney is a Great Northern railroad town that has lost its depot sometime ago but it still has its historic school building, a historic post office (that has closed in favor of a new standardized designed building, and its storefronts facing the tracks in symmetrical plan. While only 13 miles north of Whitefish, this rural railroad outpost seems many miles away.