Among the colorful people University of Montana students got to meet during a visit to Polebridge last week was Karin Craver, who delivers mail in the North Fork, often with her domesticated wolf Matohota at her side.
Even though North Fork residents know her name because she has lived north of Polebridge in a cabin for 18 years, Craver is referred to as “the mail lady,” a sort of affectionate title of respect.
Students gathered Monday in front of the Polebridge Mercantile to meet Craver and Matohota, a very large and obvious wolf that is friendly and approachable. At Craver’s urging, the students started howling to get Matohota to respond.
It didn’t take long for Matohota to oblige with loud and protracted howling, showing that he’s the best in the pack.
“The kids just love Mato,” Craver said. “He’s a star.”
As someone who knows the North Fork and its residents, Craver is a go-to source for information.
She said there are around 100 people who live in the valley during the winter, and that’s apparent by the number of driveways and mailboxes cleared of snow in the Polebridge area.
“There are often several people at the same place,” she said.
In the summer, she estimates there are about 200 to 300 residents, but they don’t all receive mail because some are around only for brief stays at their cabins.
Craver delivers mail twice a week year-round and is frequently greeted by residents at their mailboxes.
“There are some days that it takes forever to deliver the mail because I run into everybody,” she said. “They come down and visit with me.”
In the winter, residents look to Craver as a road condition scout.
“They all want to know what the road’s like,” she said. “That’s a key factor in the decision on whether to go to town or not.”
Dreaded in the winter are rainy days that can turn the road into a sheet of ice, a condition that Craver has become familiar with since she started the mail route in 2005.
Based out of the Columbia Falls Post Office, Craver also has come to know how hard the road is on vehicles. She has owned several and she estimates it costs about $3,000 to $5,000 a year in vehicle maintenance to travel the challenging North Fork Road.
That’s a downside, she said, “but I love my job.”
Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by email at email@example.com.