The engine that could
It seemed “t” words dominated speeches during Monday’s grand opening for the Glacier Rail Park.
Words like “transform” and “tenacity” and “thanks.”
There was even a reference to Tyson, as in Mike, the notorious boxer. And there was a speech by Tester, as in Jon, a U.S. senator who, along with Senate colleague Steve Daines, helped secure federal TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant funding for the multi-million dollar project.
“It’s one of the best projects I’ve seen, frankly, for a TIGER,” Tester said before the event. “It’s going to transform the look of Kalispell.”
The undertaking that ultimately became the Glacier Rail Park, with a companion Kalispell Trail to be in the mix, sprang from discussions going back decades. Tom Jentz and Katharine Thompson King with the city of Kalispell’s planning department helped get the ball rolling in 2010 with concentrated inquiries about improving downtown’s core.
On Monday, a brisk morning, speakers emphasized that keeping the ball rolling required vision, courage, tenacity and collaboration, including a key partnership between the city and the Flathead County Economic Development Authority.
About 135 people attended the grand opening.
Kim Morisaki, business development and marketing director for Montana West Economic Development, said that partners moved the project forward in spite of daunting obstacles, including challenges about where to locate the park, environmental concerns and financing.
All that work has yielded a rail park which, if plans proceed as expected, will ultimately serve the transportation needs of two companies now operating in downtown’s core that depend on rail: CHS Mountain West Co-op and Northwest Drywall and Roofing Supply.
The 42-acre park has room for another business and recruitment efforts are underway. A transload facility there, operated by Mission Mountain Railroad, could serve the rail needs of other regional companies. Mission Mountain, a subsidiary of Watco Companies, also will run the rail yard. One of the short-line railroad’s switch engines provided the backdrop for Monday’s speeches.
CHS has begun construction in the park of its fertilizer plant. Some excavation work has begun for the Northwest Drywall building.
Once those businesses no longer depend on the rail lines that cut through downtown’s core, the rails will be removed. The right-of-way for the rail corridor will become the 1.5-mile-long Kalispell Trail, which many believe will stimulate development along its course while also providing transportation for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Kalispell City Manager Doug Russell referenced the quote by Tyson, who once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Russell observed that members of the Kalispell City Council who supported the Glacier Rail Project had to rise above the often risk-averse culture of local government. He said it would have been easy along the way to have said “this is too much.”
Among those attending Monday was Pam Carbonari, executive director for both the Kalispell Business Improvement District and the Kalispell Downtown Association and a former mayor.
She expressed optimism about the Glacier Rail Park and trail and its potential to be an engine of economic development and redevelopment.
“The construction of the rail park and the multi-use trail will be transformative for this community,” Carbonari said. “This catalyst project will generate much-needed revitalization of an area which is connected to our historic downtown core.”
Before Monday’s ceremony began, King glanced around and recalled the many years of work required to move Glacier Rail Park forward.
“I never knew how beautiful a rail park could look,” she said.
Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at email@example.com or 758-4407.