The end of an era on Big Mountain Rd.
The intersection of Big Mountain Road and East Lakeshore Drive.
As I’m riding my bicycle down Big Mountain Road this summer, dodging developer vehicles and construction debris left by the endless stream of trucks making their way from one development to the next, when I reach the bottom of the mountain I can’t help but wonder… as we clearly exit out of the humble past of our sleepy ski town roots and into an urbanized playground for the ultra-rich, how did it get so different this time around? Is it that those moving in have a completely different objective than those who originally came here?
Gone is the beloved, 15-year-plus standing Mom and Pop owned Cowgirl Coffee Roasters drive-thru coffee stand and replaced by a Starbucks-owning outsider with no sense of what’s good for community, what the culture is, and seemingly with the stroke of a pen from someone who has more zeros in their bank account, change has occurred. Not for the better, but just because.
My rental home of five years on the bottom of Big Mountain Road, and home to many others for years before me, sat vacant six months after I was forced to move out, along with six other residences in a tightly woven ski bum community, albeit not providing glamorous visual aesthetic to an ever-increasing materialist-valued society with glaring opposing views to the once hard-working loggers and true mountain men who forged this Stumptown. No, it’s a different scene altogether — and unfortunately not one driven by healthy choices or ones that embrace community, culture, and the importance of history. In are the outsiders, which honestly I welcome with open arms because I too was an outsider in 2003 in calling Montana my home. The difference lies in my approach to moving here — I came here to find something different, that I could adapt to and see if, as Dylan says, “the weather suits my clothes”. And indeed it did; I found so much more here than I did in the small, dusty and windy torn town of Iowa Park, Texas. Here I found patience in people, understanding, and a culture of hard knocks that feeds the soul and turns men and women into legends! Where people came here for the purpose of what was already here — exploration, skiing, hunting, fishing, finding peace in the mountains, farming, dreaming, writing, playing music, passing down traditions to the next generation, and so on.
As I live this life I see the old giving way to the new and it’s not always been good, as in this case. The visionaries who came here in the early days are passing on, and instead of tradition being passed down, history being kept, good ole boys and their families helping out a young and upcoming family… no it’s quite different. Private equity companies based in New York with partners in China (or of the like) are buying up real estate at unprecedented levels, outsiders are no longer coming here to soak it up, they can afford to create the conveniences of home here for themselves and thus essentially just replacing their view while keeping everything else the same — hence a Starbucks instead of Cowgirl Coffee. Ski bums are being replaced by trustafarian millennials who never bussed a table or sacked groceries a day in their lives, but sport a Carhartt beanie like they know how to shovel a sidewalk. The generations who knew how to work hard, earn a buck, and pay their dues are replaced by entitled ideology who can’t have a meaningful conversation between two opposing perspectives without being “triggered.” Lost in translation from one generation to the next is the context of what made this culture what it is. There is no one to blame, there is only action to be made.
If a city rejects a proposal for a developer to move forward on a project — as in the case of the bottom of Big Mountain Road — and subsequently the state overrides the city's ability to keep the development from happening, what gets lost in translation from this is that while the many months and most likely year that passes by while this bureaucracy takes place, the real people affected by this are marginalized and left in the dust… I’m still “homeless” and yet my home sat empty until just a few days ago. There was really nowhere for me to go either, and I wonder where the other residents have ended up as well.
As Jack Johnson’s famously asked, “Where did all the good people go?”
Why are “locals” putting up with this? Why are they cashing in? The ski bums who become real estate agents and general contractors who complain about traffic on Wisconsin Avenue while being complicit in the problem are at a moral crossroads between their soul and their pocketbook, and the soul is losing. When is the couple who could sell their property for millions going to stand up and reject this, and do the right thing — perhaps sell it to an up-and-coming couple who’s looking to start a family? The people who received these opportunities 15 years ago are not following suit, they are the ones cashing in. Where is the platform to make this a reality? Every day I look on Craigslist for a new home, hoping I’ll meet someone reasonable but it’s a sell-out market. Where did the ethics go? Where is our community headed? A year from now a clear sign of the new “culture” in Whitefish will be sitting at the bottom of Big Mountain Road for all the passersby to see and time will only tell if we’re making wise decisions. I hope we can love what becomes of the change upon us, but true change has to start within each one of us. My name is Chas Vergauwen and I originally moved to Whitefish in 2003.
Chas Vergauwen, Whitefish