Wednesday, July 17, 2024

At Kiowa Junction, a new mercantile has opened

Editor | May 22, 2024 7:45 AM

On Mother’s Day Kiowa Junction, the historic intersection of the Looking Glass Highway and Highway 89 on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation was something it hasn’t been in a very long time: It was busy.

Busy with tourists looking to get a bite to eat and make a pit stop between sites in Glacier National Park. Busy with locals looking to have some fried chicken and a huckleberry bear claw for dessert.

The new Kyiyo Mercantile had just opened and it was full as the line wound through the store, nearly to the door.

The Kyiyo Mercantile (pronounced kee-iyou, it is the Blackfeet name for bear) is the brainchild of Polebridge Mercantile owner Will Hammerquist. He was first attracted to the property on a trip east of the Divide a few years ago to go climb Mount Cleveland in Glacier National Park. The old store at Kiowa Junction was in bad shape and it turned out the property was for sale, so Hammerquist eventually purchased it.

About a year ago, construction of the new mercantile began in earnest, Hammerquist said, with the building modeled after the Polebridge Mercantile, but with some modern amenities, like a brand new kitchen, steel siding, and ornate woodwork.

“I always thought of it as a revitalization,” Hammerquist said.

A host of local talent on both sides of the Divide helped build the place. Dick Anderson Construction was the general contractor, Cushing Terrell the architects with John Colliander and Chad Haven doing the framing and other woodwork. Danny Frye milled the timbers from larch harvested up the North Fork. Colin Schultz did the tile and stone and Curt Kress did the shelving and other woodwork.

Freestone Development of Helena was the project consultant with financing through Valley Bank of Kalispell. He also noted the project was “only possible because of an amazing team, led by my wife Katerina, who kept the ovens warm in Polebridge,” while he worked on the new venture.

Hammerquist said Colliander’s framing expertise kept the project on schedule after it had fallen behind, framing the entire building in just a couple of weeks.

“It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen,” he said.

All told it’s about 2,400 square feet — half store and half spacious and modern kitchen.

Unlike the Polebridge Mercantile it’s on the power grid, so there are modern amenities available to the staff and patrons.

The kitchen bakes the same Polebridge Mercantile baked goods, but also a has a full deli, with fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes. The artwork inside is both modern and vintage, including great black and white photographs by Roland Reed. Reed, a pictorialist, was hired by the Great Northern Railroad to take photos of the area in the 1890s.

Reed died in 1934 in Colorado after apparently slipping on a banana peel, where he fell on his back and broke several vertebrae, which ultimately led to his death.

The store offers a host of goods a traveler might need as the wares of local and regional arts and craftspeople, like pottery from Mary and Tom Briney, for example.

The property has employee housing and will also have a about 2 1/2 to 3 miles of trails open to the public, which reach a high point that offers views to Divide Mountain and other peaks in Glacier National Park. Hammerquist said the store will be open in line with the opening and closing of the Looking Glass Highway each year. Most years snows close the scenic road, which has no guardrails but offers impressive views, by mid-October. It then typically opens in May.

The route and Kiowa Junction have historical significance. It used to be the main route from Browning to the west before the U.S. Highway 2 Bridge over the Two Medicine River was built.

It’s also unique and valuable wildlife habitat, with aspen groves, expansive prairies, dense forests and a host of small streams rife with beaver ponds. The area is home to a full suite of Montana megafauna, including moose, elk, grizzly and black bears and white-tailed deer. In the foothills and mountain just a few miles away, bighorn sheep and mountain goats call the place home.

With an ongoing effort to reintroduce wild bison to the landscape, the great beasts could someday soon be wandering through the countryside as well.