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Article Listings - History

This Precious Reserve: The Flathead National Forest

In 1898, John Muir advised readers of Atlantic Monthly, “If you are business-tangled, and so burdened with duty that only weeks can be got out of the heavy-laden year, then go to the Flathead Reserve…Get off the track at Belton Station, and in a few minutes you will find yourself in the midst of what you are sure to say is the best care-killing scenery on the continent…Give a month at least to this precious reserve…the time will not be taken from the sum of your life.”  Muir’s words described what is now known as the Flathead National Forest, more than two million acres of spectacular scenery and outstanding recreational opportunities.

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Honoring the Past

In less than one year, a wooded and overgrown corner of Bigfork’s Sliter Park was transformed by volunteers into a memorial for those who founded and built this community on the bay. The Memorial Park was formally dedicated on a Sunday afternoon in 2011 and has quickly become a favorite attraction for the village.

Located just across the historic steel bridge at the entrance to Sliter Park, the memorial includes a 25’ lighted flagpole, native plantings, rock wall perimeter, rock benches, informational signs and a brick memorial walking path. Two bronze statues mounted on native stone anchor the memorial. Pioneer Woman was created by Ron Adamson of Libby while Fallen Heroes was sculpted by Ken Bjorge of Bigfork.

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A Short History of the Flathead National Forest

As settlers moved west across the vast American heartland, early conservationists realized that something had to be done to insure that a growing country would always have enough timber. They could not allow the western timberlands to be stripped like the eastern ones had been. Others noted that the western forests also protected the western watersheds, providing water for irrigation on the plains. Timber and water were two of the main reasons for the 1891 Forest Reserve Act authorizing the President to establish forest reserves in the US. That same year Benjamin Harrison created the Yellowstone Reserve as the first forest reserve. Six years later President Grover Cleveland established 13 new forest reserves in the west.  The huge Flathead Forest Reserve was one of the thirteen.

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Between Two Cultures

The state of Montana is home to seven Indian reservations and twelve tribal nations. And Bigfork is perfectly situated between two of them – the Blackfeet Indian Reservation to the north and west and the Flathead Indian Reservation to the south. This makes Bigfork the perfect location for a trip that includes learning more about Native American culture.

Located just east of Glacier National Park and the Rocky Mountains, the 1.5 million acre Blackfeet Reservation is bordered by Canada to the north with prairie and wilderness on its east side.  The Blackfeet or “Pikuni”, belong to the Blackfoot Confederacy which consists of the Montana Blackfeet and three other tribes residing in Canada.  With 16,000 enrolled members, this is the largest Indian tribe in Montana and they are one of only six tribes that still live on their ancestral lands.

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