Kalispell, are you ready to walk?
Earlier this year a neighbor did a massive favor and so I thanked him with a gift card to a favorite downtown Kalispell restaurant.
A few weeks later, a visitor to my workplace mentioned the restaurant had closed for good. Food service is a grueling industry, never mind the already grim odds for a startup. I will forever miss those wild salmon tacos and “reyes ritas” with chipotle lime rims.
I thought of that gift card, which I hoped my buddy had received in time and enjoyed a nice meal. Use it or lose it, right?
The mantra applies often.
In business school I read and reviewed for my class “Uncharted: How to Navigate the Future” by entrepreneur and “CEO whisperer” Margaret Heffernan. In it, she makes the almost-too-simple point that we can’t know the future because it hasn’t happened yet. Forecast all you want, but don’t dare depend on it. As if to illustrate her thesis, the book came out in February 2020 when a virus called Covid-19 tipped the world into pandemic mode.
Heffernan also referred to research showing that dependence on tech solutions can have a deleterious effect on cognitive ability. A 2020 study found that people who often relied on device-driven GPS navigation showed a decline in hippocampal-dependent spatial memory. Conversely, London taxi drivers who learned “The Knowledge” of their city’s streets (about 25,000) developed a larger hippocampus.
With human faculties, it’s also use it or lose it. (Or in the case of those taxi drivers: Use it and grow it.)
As I leave work I pass by Kalispell’s Depot Park with its gazebo shrouded in orange plastic fencing. I listened to the hours of testimony provided in late January to Kalispell City Council about the gazebo and heard many say how much they wanted to take their kids to the park and enjoy its facilities.
Again: Use it or lose it.
At lunch I often take a walk around downtown, enjoying the varied streetscape, the old-growth architecture, the pace and texture of our city’s center. We’re lucky to have a downtown full of character and a pedestrian-friendly environment.
At the Northwest Montana History Museum, we aim to launch a walking tour by summer that reveals Kalispell history as told through the structures at its core. We have much to be proud of, starting with picking up some buildings — literally — from Demersville to transplant them here. Those buildings then were joined by a pleasing variety of Main Street architecture over the following decades.
The buildings contain generations of stories. One of the hardest tasks is whittling the 50-plus possible sites down to fit into a manageable, educational stroll for visitors and locals alike.
A vibrant downtown gives Kalispell personality as well as a window to its past development and future. The community’s economic engine and neighbors’ livelihoods are reflected in small business enterprises occupying interesting spaces adapted to serving today’s needs.
As with so much else, we have to discover it and, yes, use it.
Margaret E. Davis, executive director of the Northwest Montana History Museum, can be reached at email@example.com