I have lived in Columbia Falls, Montana for nearly 15 years. It is one of four small towns in the Flathead Valley of Northwest Montana. Northwest Montana wasn’t even on my radar growing up in suburban Michigan. But in 1998, I fell in love and decided to follow that love to Montana. My husband and I grew up together in Michigan, but he moved to Montana after college, ostensibly to work just a summer at a guest ranch in Eureka. I say ostensibly because, like so many others, once he arrived in Montana, he never left. Montana has that power. Anyhow, I followed him two years later. Initially, I planned to finish my school year in Grand Haven, move west in June, and substitute teach while looking for a permanent teaching job. Lucky for me, a job opened up in January at Whitefish High School and I was fortunate enough for the position. On my way home, during a layover in Minneapolis, I returned the call of the principal, who offered me the job. I tentatively accepted, and the following day resigned from Grand Haven High school. I had a wonderful boss who said that he knew if I didn’t follow my heart, I would never really be happy.
I graded semester exams, loaded my classroom into my car and drove to my house, where my entire family had come to help me load the U-Haul. Eric had flown out to drive back with me. We drove across the country, pulling into Columbia Falls on a Sunday night. I started work on Monday morning, after digging frantically though the U-Haul for an acceptable work outfit.
That’s how I began my life in Montana. We lived in a single wide up a logging road until spring. In 1999, we got married, bought a house, adopted two puppies and I started a new job at Columbia Falls High School. This is where we have lived ever since.
I love living in Columbia Falls. We are sometimes considered the poor relation to Whitefish seven miles down the road–and we will never be what Whitefish is, which is ski town. Whitefish is very cute, with great restaurants, lovely shops and a thriving tourist industry. What it isn’t, for us, is affordable. We kept seeing the same thing happen, over and over–people we hung out with in Whitefish, who always rented there, began getting married and buying houses in Columbia Falls. We certainly don’t regret it. This is now our town, our community, and we are wholly committed to it.
Columbia Falls is trying to find itself as the timber industries continue to downsize. Our location is perfect: we are the last town of any size before Glacier National Park (although Hungry Horse, Martin City and Coram are along the way). We have new restaurants like Three Forks Grille, The Palette Cafe, and Base Camp Cafe. A brewery called Desert Mountain Brewing and Draughthaus is nearly ready to open. We are starting the third year of our Community Garden. We have a farmer’s market. River’s Edge Park is an amazing place to walk your dog, watch muskrats and otters and fly a kite. There is a wonderful sense of revitalization and renewal in this already great place–and it is a fun time to live here.
Every Flathead Valley town has its own identity, and all are great places, but Columbia Falls is something special. See for yourself–check out the promotional video I posted the other day.
What do you love best about Columbia Falls? Or the town you live in?