Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Resilience, fortitude carry the Flathead into 2022

| January 2, 2022 12:00 AM

We’ve stepped into the new year in a very different place than we were a year ago.

The Covid-19 pandemic is still with us, with the Omicron variant now swirling around us, but so much has changed since last January. At the onset of 2021, health-care workers had gotten their first dose of vaccine and the transition had begun for other segments of the population to get vaccinated. The wait seemed agonizingly long for those anxious to get their vaccines. Covid had upended lives in March 2020, and fear and uncertainty ensued.

Crossing over to 2022 — some 18 months since Covid began — the vaccines and booster shots have provided broad protection, and with proper precautions we’re navigating life, trying to find our way back to “normal.”

As the Daily Inter Lake embarked on its year-end series, “Looking Ahead,” common themes that emerged were resilience, fortitude and innovation. It’s clear the Flathead Valley’s varied sectors, including transportation, local government, education, entertainment, fish and game agencies, nonprofits and Glacier Park, are all moving forward with optimism amid some very real challenges.

Glacier, for example, is expanding its ticketed entry system as it navigates record numbers of visitors. Even with Covid-induced cutbacks, such as sidelining guided hikes and other programs, the popular park still is on track to break the all-time visitor record of 3.3 million set in 2017.

Employee housing for Glacier’s seasonal workforce is another huge challenge for the park, and the hiring of a new park superintendent is among the list of things to do. Yet there is positive change afoot in Glacier — better cellphone coverage inside the park, scientific studies being conducted in collaboration with the Glacier Park Conservancy, infrastructure improvements and even the possible return of bison to the park.

Turning the lens to local government, Flathead County is pushing ahead with expanding and rearranging office space to accommodate a growing workforce and the addition of a fifth district judge by the beginning of 2023. The addition of a new backup 911 center to be housed in the forthcoming North Building — the renovated former CenturyLink facility in Kalispell — is a prudent move for the county.

The county also has been tasked with hiring a number of new department heads as several directors have retired or moved on. That process will continue into 2022. Bringing on new leadership is a challenge, but so far, the county commissioners seem to have made some good choices to fill those vacancies.

Changes in our transportation system are perhaps more overt and quantifiable. Kalispell’s long-awaited Parkline Trail was completed along the old railroad bed through the city’s center. And the Montana Department of Transportation wrapped up two major roundabout projects on the U.S. 93 bypass and the intersection of Dern Road and Spring Creek Road on U.S. west of Kalispell.

Local fish and game officials can be proud of the work they've done to keep the threat of aquatic invaders at bay and chronic wasting disease contained. They hope to build off that success in 2022, and keep up the good fight.

On every level, the Flathead Valley is moving ahead, whether it’s figuring out how to expand schools to meet burgeoning enrollment, or nonprofits working tirelessly on issues that affect our most vulnerable, such as homelessness and mental health. Workforce shortages and the lack of affordable housing still loom large, but we’ll find a way to address those challenges.

It all comes back to the resilience of Flathead folks, who more often than not choose to see the glass half full of water instead of half empty, who embrace their challenges and work toward solutions, who generously help those in need.

We have a good feeling about 2022; let’s get on with it.

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