Bakke Nature Reserve is artist’s gift to Whitefish

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  • View of the James R. Bakke Nature Reserve on Wednesday morning, May 30, in Whitefish.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

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    View of the James R. Bakke Nature Reserve trail on Wednesday morning, May 30, in Whitefish. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

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    The James R. Bakke Nature Reserve has a quarter mile trail as well as several informational signs about Bakke and his artwork.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

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    View of the James R. Bakke Nature Reserve trail on Wednesday morning, May 30, in Whitefish.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

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    The James R. Bakke Nature Reserve has a quarter mile trail as well as several informational signs about Bakke and his artwork.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 5

    View of the James R. Bakke Nature Reserve on Wednesday morning, May 30, in Whitefish.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

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    A detail of one of the informational signs at the James R. Bakke Nature Reserve has one of Bakke's paintings lighting covered in raindrops on Wednesday morning, May 30.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • View of the James R. Bakke Nature Reserve on Wednesday morning, May 30, in Whitefish.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    View of the James R. Bakke Nature Reserve trail on Wednesday morning, May 30, in Whitefish. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 2

    The James R. Bakke Nature Reserve has a quarter mile trail as well as several informational signs about Bakke and his artwork.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 3

    View of the James R. Bakke Nature Reserve trail on Wednesday morning, May 30, in Whitefish.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 4

    The James R. Bakke Nature Reserve has a quarter mile trail as well as several informational signs about Bakke and his artwork.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 5

    View of the James R. Bakke Nature Reserve on Wednesday morning, May 30, in Whitefish.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 6

    A detail of one of the informational signs at the James R. Bakke Nature Reserve has one of Bakke's paintings lighting covered in raindrops on Wednesday morning, May 30.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

The deer already have found solitude there.

At the newly opened James R. Bakke Nature Reserve, a 4-acre natural park in Whitefish, the first thing one notices is the pin-drop quiet. It’s a lush oasis off West Seventh Street, where trails meander throughout the property that was once Bakke’s home.

A well-known artist, Bakke bequeathed his wooded land to the city of Whitefish and specified in his will that his land be donated to the city for use as a natural park. As such, the city cleared a number of buildings off the property, including a 1918 farmhouse, and then landscaped the area to include walking paths and natural vegetation.

Bakke, who died in 2013 at age 82, treasured open space and nature. Montana landscapes often were the subjects of his paintings.

The reserve includes an interpretive trail, parking and picnic tables. It is open from dawn to dusk, and dogs are welcome but must be on a leash. The natural grass is not irrigated or mowed regularly, but is minimally maintained so it’s not a fire hazard, according to city officials.

The Rotary Club of Whitefish raised around $23,000 — the majority of the money needed for the project — through the Whitefish Community Foundation’s Great Fish Challenge. Rotary members also supplied many hours of community service, according to Carla Belski, community services coordinator for Whitefish Parks and Recreation.

Resort-tax revenue paid for the parking lot that was built in conjunction with the West Seventh Street reconstruction last year. The city’s parkland acquisition and development fund paid for the interpretive signs.

Other entities that contributed to the nature reserve included the Stumptown Historical Society, Forestoration, Front Desk Design Inc., Arborvitae and Donna Hopkins, who wrote a book about Bakke’s life and artwork.

Bakke moved to Whitefish with his family in 1947. He graduated from Whitefish High School in 1949. Like many of his peers from that era, Bakke went to work for the railroad.

His real passion was painting, drawing inspiration from Glacier National Park, Whitefish and other parts of Montana for his work. Bakke’s first paintings were done in crayon as he grew up on a wheat farm in the open spaces of Northcentral Montana.

Bakke completed a correspondence course through the Famous Artists School of Westport, Connecticut, but otherwise was self-taught. He also was an accomplished photographer.

While Bakke painted and photographed all kinds of people and places, the quintessential Montana landscapes were a recurring theme. His legacy to Whitefish is the preservation in perpetuity of the nature he loved so well.

Features Editor Lynnette may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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