Welcome to Nucleus: Ribbon cutting marks new era for downtown Columbia Falls

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Cutting the ribbon the new Nucleus Avenue monuments Monday were, from left, Mark Johnson, Cassie Guy, Michael Burr, Melanie Byrd, O’Briwn Byrd, Holly Bigelow, Dave Petersen, Mayor Don Barnhart, Bill Goldberg, Don Bennett, Susan Nicosia, Jerry Burley and Timm Ells.

For the first time in about 40 years, Columbia Falls’ Nucleus Avenue now greets visitors to downtown.

Two large monuments, weighing about 20 tons each, now welcome visitors to this fair city. One monument says “Historic Downtown, Adventure Lives Here,” and the other “Nucleus District, Gateway to Glacier.”

The project costs about $50,000 and was financed through the Columbia Falls Community Foundation, not taxpayer dollars. Members of the Foundation, spearheaded by Columbia Falls businessman O’Brien Byrd, started work on the project about two years ago.

During a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday, members have Byrd a big round of applause.

He said he and his Melanie originally had their business on Nucleus years ago and it was difficult at the time because of the lack of downtown tourist traffic.

The monuments showcase a far more vibrant Nucleus today.

“The Columbia Falls Community Foundation was driven to help our downtown businesses succeed and offer an opportunity to raise some money locally to provide signage for them. Thirty-eight -plus years with zero Highway 2 sign frontage? That’s unacceptable,” he said. “Growth is imminent, but how we grow is still in the control of our community members and local entrepreneurs. We will never be like other towns in our Flathead Valley. We are Columbia Falls. As long as we can grow to appease and help our local community businesses and community members, we will grow in the right direction.”

The last time Columbia Falls showcased Nucleus was when a wooden arch spanned the road back in the 1960s and 1970s.

The old wood arch read “Columbia Falls City Center” and had various signs attached to the posts that pointed out directions to locations, like the Post Office, Big Creek and Kintla Lake.

But in 1981 Nucleus Avenue was rebuilt and the intersection of Nucleus, and what was then Highway 40, was changed. The arch came down sometime before that. The latest photo the Hungry Horse News has of the arch was in 1975, but in that photo, it looks like it was in good shape, so it probably lasted at least a few years beyond that.

Mayor Don Barnhart laid the foundation for the monuments a couple of weeks ago, Glacier Pre-Cast concrete created the monuments and installed them and Biggy’s landscaping did the landscaping and planting at the base of the arch.

Barnhart said Monday that he recalled the days when his father, Ray, was active in the community and people didn’t wait around for the city or other government entity to get a project completed — they just came together and got things done.

“It warms the cockles of my heart,” Barnhart said. “We’re getting back to where we were.”

Downtown Columbia Falls has come a long way in a few short years. With investments by several businessmen and women, it now has a host of restaurants, shops, gyms, a grocery store, new housing and more.

Other projects are in the works as the city center witnesses a renaissance it hasn’t seen since the Anaconda Aluminum Co. was going full bore and local lumber mills were at capacity, decades ago.

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