Hearing set for request on lake name change

by HEIDI DESCH
Editor | October 21, 2020 1:00 AM

By HEIDI DESCH

Whitefish Pilot

A hearing on the petition to change the name of Lost Coon Lake is being held in Flathead County District Court on Tuesday, Oct. 27.

A group of neighbors, along with the City of Whitefish, filed a petition before the court seeking to change the name of the lake due to its connection to a racial slur.

The hearing is at 3:30 p.m.

Lost Coon Lake is southwest of Whitefish and is about 61 acres in size and a portion of the lake is within city limits. There is no public access to the lake.

“Locals and visitors alike consider the name Lost Coon Lake extremely offensive, as its history and meaning are easily discovered,” the city wrote in its petition with the court.

The history of the current name of the lake isn’t largely known. USGS maps show the name of the lake as Lost Coon Lake for certain years, while others show it as having no name. According to the book “Stump Town to Ski Town” on the history of Whitefish, it was originally called “Nigger Lake” and was allegedly named such because of an African American woman Mrs. Randals who operated a rooming house near the lake. Some, however, claim that Mrs. Randals was actually Spanish, according to the book.

How the lake name was changed to Lost Coon Lake isn’t entirely clear, but a Wikipedia entry says that in the mid-20th century there was a refusal to accept ice harvest contracts with the name on it.

Tim Grattan relayed a story to the Pilot regarding the name change. Grattan, who was the developer of Grouse Mountain and Lion Mountain, said he was in the process of buying Lion Mountain from Glen Brown, who at the time had the contract for getting ice off the lake.

However, Grattan said, in the early 1970s the railroad told Brown they wouldn’t buy any more ice from a lake named Nigger Lake and so the name was quickly changed to Lost Coon.

As part of the petition, the city points to a letter received by the Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau in 2015 from a visitor to Whitefish who researched the history of the name and said it seems like though the name is a reflection of the racism of the past it is also well past time to change the name of the lake.

“The city has been, and continues to be, committed to honoring and welcoming the diversity of all our citizens and visitors,” the petition says.

Under state law, in order to change the name of a waterbody a petition has to be filed in district judge and then a hearing is set to accept comment. Following the hearing, District Court Judge Dan Wilson will approve or deny the request. If approved, the name change is then sent to the secretary of state in January.

The petition asks to rename the lake to Lost Loon Lake. The name comes because loons returned to the lake a few years ago after Whitefish Lake Golf Club placed a nesting platform on the lake to encourage the birds to establish there.

Neighbors around the lake and others in the community have been working on and off on the effort to rename the lake for several years when it recently got largely traction.

A group of neighbors are also working together to begin the process of renaming the road Lost Coon Trail, which runs near the lake. That will involve submitting the change to the county for approval.