Another year has come and gone, here’s a look at what we feel were the top 10 local stories of 2018.
1) The transformation of lower Nucleus Avenue. After more than 20 years of either vacant or run-down buildings, Nucleus Avenue and downtown in general saw a big boost in growth, with the complete remodel of the former Sportsman Bar into the Gunsight Saloon by owner Pat Carloss. In addition, new condos and commercial space were completed by developers Bill Goldberg and Mick Ruis, further enhancing the look and feel of downtown.
2) The Howe Ridge Fire in Glacier National Park burned about 14,500 acres in and several structures, including most of the privately-owned cabins in Kelly’s Camp and three cabins at the Wheeler Cabin complex along Lake McDonald. The lightning-caused fire closed the west side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road for weeks. Despite that, Glacier Park visitation remained robust, with just under 3 million people visiting the Park for the year. Another fire, the Boundary Fire, burned about 3,000 acres on the boundary of Waterton Lakes and Glacier Park. The North Fork also saw several smaller fires as summer saw virtually no rain in August, just like 2017.
3) The Sperry Chalet in Glacier National park was partially rebuilt and stabilized by Dick Anderson Construction. Anderson crews worked all summer at the chalet and had work wrapped up just as the snow started to fly. Finish work on the $12 million project is expected this year. The chalet was gutted by the Sprague Fire in 2017 — all that was left standing were the stone masonry walls.
4) It was a bad year for grizzly bears. Fifty-one grizzlies were killed or removed from the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem in 2018 — a record number. Perhaps most troubling were that 17 bears total died from collisions with vehicles or the surviving young were moved to zoos. Biologists note there are more bears than there used to be, but critics contend human encroachment isn’t helping the bruins any.
5) Staying in the grizzly vein, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service broke the law when it delisted the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population of grizzly bears. His ruling put the bears back on the Endangered Species List and stopped trophy hunting of bears in Wyoming and Idaho for the time being. Montana has joined Wyoming, Idaho and the Fish and Wildlife Service in an appeal of the case.
6) Whitefish native and Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke resigned from his post. Zinke cited politics as the reason for his resignation. Watchdog groups were critical of Zinke’s travel expenses and a land deal he made in Whitefish with Halliburton executive David Lesar.
7) Harry Yount award-winning ranger and School District 6 school board member Scott Emmerich died after a long battle with brain cancer. The affable ranger was a well-known figure in the North Fork and Columbia Falls. Word of his passing was the most read story online in the Hungry Horse News.
8) Crews from Calbag Resources all but finished the demolition of the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. plant. What was once the largest building in Montana is now just a big flat spot of ground, filled in with gravel that was mined onsite.
9) The Columbia Falls City Council began exploring a 3 percent resort tax as a way to pay for fire and police services and give homeowners a property tax break. As the city grows, it will eventually need a full-time 24-hour fire department. The tax was a lively topic of discussion on social media.
10) The former Glacier Park Inc. broke ground on a big RV Park in West Glacier. The company is now called Pursuit. Residents brought up plenty of concerns about traffic and safety on River Bend Drive where the park will be located. They’re worried about crowds in West Glacier, which is already very crowded in the summer already.