(BRANDON HANSEN/Managing Editor of the Chewelah Independent)
When I got my first “real world” journalism job, it was in Polson, Montana on the shores of Flathead Lake in NW Montana. While I had basically spent the past six years doing more than my fair share of reporting on EWU’s campus in just about every media job you could think of, this was my first step out into a place I had never been before.
And you know what? Montana has it figured out.
Granted there are wildlife issues and a quick skimming of Montana newspaper headlines would tell you as much. Winters are basically “Let’s pack it in for a few month’s boys and go to the bar!” but there just isn’t anything quite like the Big Sky State.
Eastern Washington and Stevens County could learn a few things from Montana. Having spent two years there, I just have to say it felt incredibly different from anywhere else I have lived.
First, Montana has tremendous local pride in their small towns, the people who inhabit them and what is going on. Does the town have the best cribbage player in the nation? You bet that is the first thing you’re going to hear from people when coming into town. Then there are going to be two community events surrounding that best cribbage player in the nation and they will be like a local celebrity.
Montana also has the roadside attraction/why our town matters mantra down pat. When you ask someone in Stevens County what there is to do, you might get a sideways look and “Oh there’s nothing to do around here.”
There are far more isolated areas in Montana and when you ask what there is to do, the response is: “Well you can go down to the Crabtree Inn and get the best burger in the West, you can shoot pool at the Legion Hall, there is an old hiking trail by the old dam and there is a wildlife preserve not far from here where Wyatt Earp once camped.”
[Granted Montana has a lot of wilderness, but let’s be honest, Stevens County isn’t exactly a subdivision outside a major city. We’ve got prime Bigfoot territory]
And every town has stuff. Butte made themselves a tourist destination for having a toxic mine. I’m not kidding. There is all sorts of weird and old things to check out in towns in Montana. They also do a great job of advertising that their town has something you should stop by for.
All of this plus a boatload of pride. When somebody tells you they are from Montana, they say it like it means something. Have you ever told someone you’re from Washington like it means something? People in Montana relish that they are near nature, have winters that can kill you and the population centers are small. The number of people who complain about their town being small in Montana is muuuch lower than in Eastern Washington. They relish it and most of all take what they have and make the best of it.
Again and again, the Chewelah area reminds me of Montana in the setting. I swear if you transplanted Montana people here in Stevens County, this would become the prime recreational area of Washington within a few years. They’re that hearty of a people.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to drink some Cold Smoke so I feel like I’m in Montana again.