The verdict is unanimous — downtown Kalispell is on the cusp of a renaissance.
Thanks to years of dedication, hard work and perseverance, the dream of removing the historic railroad tracks from Kalispell’s core area is close to fruition.
The new Glacier Rail Park, which was the site of a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday morning, will provide a terminus for rail traffic outside the city center. The last commercial rail customers in downtown Kalispell, CHS and Northwest Drywall, made this exciting moment possible by agreeing to move their businesses to the 40-acre rail park. Other businesses, some very likely new to the area, will surely follow.
When the rail lines are no longer needed for commercial service in downtown Kalispell, they will be torn out, ending an era that began in 1892 — and when they are gone, they will open acres and acres of land to new development for the first time in decades. In addition to new residential, retail and commercial construction, the former rail line itself will provide the basis for a pedestrian and bike trail through the heart of Kalispell.
Sen. Jon Tester, who attended the groundbreaking ceremony, was a tireless advocate for the project in D.C. He, along with Sen. Steve Daines and former Rep. Ryan Zinke, deserves our community’s thanks.
On the home front, we owe a debt of gratitude to Kim Morisaki of Montana West Economic Development and the Flathead County Economic Development Authority; Katharine Thompson, Kalispell’s community development manager; Tom Jentz, the city’s planning and building director; Mayor Mark Johnson, and many others who saw the process through over the past seven years. Remember, it took three tries before the city’s request for a federal TIGER grant resulted in the $10 million needed to make this dream come true.
What it all comes down to is this: Kalispell, you should be proud of yourself. Your history is rich and colorful, but with this change, you have ensured that the best is yet to come.