Montana is different, and we like it that way
This letter has been simmering for a while, and now appears I am lending my voice to a chorus of brokenhearted Montanans speaking out.
To the multitudes now moving to and visiting Montana, please resist the temptation to recreate the chaos and unsavory aspects and expectations you left behind.
People have lived here because they value self-reliance, solitude, peace and quiet, the ability to see the stars, the wildlife and open spaces. We didn’t need giant homes because we live outdoors and we value the land more. And, our wildlife was not considered a nuisance, but rather a gift to be treasured and protected.
So many people coming from out of state seem to hate everything we value — for instance quiet. Boat speakers at decibels I didn’t know were possible. Music polluting the air on hiking trails. Kids and adults with ear buds in while biking. Talking out loud on the phone while hitting balls at the driving range. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Approaching cars, people, birds singing, the sound of the wind in the trees, waterfalls, animals, danger signals, literally fall on deaf ears..
This letter began August 2020 following the fire on Bird Island in Flathead Lake. There are some who regard the reckless burning of the island the equivalent of willful arson. To knowingly disregard posted “no campfires” signs is to deliberately set an illegal fire. For me the burning of my childhood playground/paradise gave me an inkling of how our Native American people must have felt as settlers who had no regard for the land nor respect for their way of life, invaded their homeland and systematically destroyed everything the Native Americans held dear.
If what you want are the amenities and conveniences you left behind, then go back home. Don’t come here and whine about what’s missing. Montana is different and we like it that way. Come here because you appreciate that Montana doesn’t have Uber, taxis, subways, lights and noise. As singer Mike Murray so eloquently penned; “Montana has treasure, money can’t buy.” And, spoiler alert, we don’t care how “successful” you may be or how much money you may have, but we do care about you bulldozing and clear-cutting the land, destroying irreplaceable habitat in the process.
And, please turn off your lights! If you’re afraid of the dark, go live in the city. Some of us feel safer shrouded in the dark at night. There’s nothing that stands out like a flickering flashlight if someone is nosing around your property. Your security lights, as I see it, just declare to the world that you are very special, have much to lose and are afraid of losing it. There is night for a reason. Wildlife depends on it for food and reproduction, humans to sleep and recharge and as a reminder, as we gaze into the immensity of the night skies, that it’s not all about us!
Also, we don’t know who you think you are but please don’t be rude to our servers and workers in the valley. They are our people, doing their best to make a living and enjoy where they are. It’s not that we’re so naïve or ignorant that we don’t know how things work in the big city, we just don’t want to! If we’re unincorporated, it’s because we value volunteerism and community service and don’t want to depend on the government for what we can do ourselves ... our way. If we take a little longer to do something maybe it’s because we take pride in how we do it. And, for those of you speeding past us on rural roads nearly cutting off the motorcycle we are riding, if you are in such a hurry to get somewhere, by all means go there ... and stay there. If we’re not in such a hurry, maybe it’s because we are where we want to be.
Winter this year was no respite. Heading over to my favorite cross-country ski trail I am initially dismayed by the overwhelming number of cars. Once on the trail, the first thing I see is a woman on skis with a dog on a leash standing about 20 feet from a sign that says “Out of respect for the intended use of the groomed ski trails. Please be courteous and leave dogs at home.” Out on the trail, I notice that the trail is all chewed up by people who have been walking on the trail. These people, again, had to have walked right by that same sign which states: “use only snowshoes or skis on trails. Walking with shoes damages groomed ski trails.”
More and more we have seen an influx of people to the Flathead Valley who seem to have an attitude of entitled, spoiled, self-centered squatters for whom apparently the rules don’t apply. If you are not one of those people, you know who you are. If you are ... you are without a clue. And, apparently, the rules don’t apply to you, just to the ignorant, backward locals who don’t seem to know that the world revolves around you. It’s not that we’re trying to keep you out or keep it all to ourselves, we just ask that you respect and preserve the integrity this treasure deserves.
Bottom line, this is not your playground, this is our home so slow down and look around you ... you are surrounded by incomparable beauty. Be respectful and play by the rules or go back to where that kind of narcissism is apparently acceptable. If you’re unwilling or disinterested in adapting to the lifestyle and values of the Treasure State, including obeying the rules set in place to protect the land for all God’s creatures, and more importantly, for future generations, (and that includes NOT trashing our national parks and wilderness areas) then please don’t come. Leave our state for those who do appreciate the land and want to protect it.
And, to Montanans who value what we have, be smart, resist the temptation to adapt our lifestyle to appease those who want to change it. It is up to each of us to keep the Last Best Place from becoming the First Worst Place.
Kathryn Berg lives in Bigfork.