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Let Evergreen serve as an inspiration

by Daily Inter Lake
| March 31, 2024 12:00 AM

Passersby have by now likely caught sight of workers preparing the way for forthcoming sidewalks along U.S. 2 in Evergreen. It’s the culmination of years of work by residents, school administrators, members of the business community and lawmakers, and marks a moment for the unincorporated Flathead Valley community to celebrate. 

For years, students heading to Evergreen Junior High on foot — the school district is too small to receive funding for buses — have had to trudge along the side of the busy highway following a well-worn footpath. When conditions deteriorate and the pathway becomes unusable, children take to the shoulder to get to their classes.

At the same time, nearly 20,000 vehicles travel the multilane pavement in front of the schoolhouse each day, according to data compiled by the Montana Department of Transportation in 2021.

“Every time I see a student walking along the shoulder of the road … I’m concerned for that student's safety,” Superintendent Laurie Barron told the Daily Inter Lake this month. 

Concerns about the safety of pedestrians along the highway have long percolated in the community — anyone who has driven that stretch of road knows how hectic it can be depending on the time of day. But rather than accept the status quo, the community banded together and began gradually working toward a solution.  

In 2021, the community secured a $1 million grant for sidewalks from the former site of the Kmart to the junior high. That stretch, currently under construction, is just the first phase of a much larger plan for the future. Community leaders joined with state Rep. Tony Brockman, R-Evergreen, to find money for a second phase during the most recent legislative session. 

Not only did his constituents want to see the sidewalks come to fruition, it was the right thing to do, Brockman said last year. 

“We needed to tackle the problem, which is a lack of infrastructure for schools that are near highways,” he told the Inter Lake.

Funding for the second phase ultimately came in the form of federal funds doled out by the state Transportation Department, which slated just shy of $1 million for the undertaking in August 2023. A possible third phase addressing West Evergreen Drive has also been under discussion.

A sidewalk building project may seem insignificant to some — it's no Hoover Dam or Freedom Tower, after all — but the residents, teachers, business owners and community leaders of Evergreen have reminded us that a group of dedicated and hardworking people can make a big difference in their backyard when it comes to advocating for a needed safety measure. 

No matter where you live in the valley, if you see a job that needs to be done — no matter how big or small — remember that with a little organizing and a dash of perseverance it too can come to pass.