Thursday, June 20, 2024

Thank you for the sidewalks, Evergreen

| May 5, 2024 12:00 AM

For the past 11 years, I have had the honor of serving as the very proud superintendent of the Evergreen School District. On behalf of the Evergreen Board of Trustees, staff, students, families, and community, I would like to thank everyone for their work to help our geographically small, rural, unincorporated community see the dream and vision of sidewalks for safe routes to school become a reality.

In 2005, almost 20 years ago, Evergreen Community Partners spearheaded Safe Routes to School in this community, which saw one mile of sidewalks installed from U.S. 2 to East Evergreen Elementary School in 2009. In 2021, Evergreen Community Partners initiated Phase I of sidewalks for U.S. 2, and, three years later, after more meetings, discussions, and navigating challenges than I can list here, we have broken ground on sidewalks that will provide safe routes to school from Evergreen Junior High School to the intersection one mile south, and we are in the process of planning for Phase II, which will see sidewalks going north toward Reserve Street.

The Evergreen School District is in its 121st year of continuous operation and is one of the mostly densely populated school districts in Montana. Throughout these many years, this stretch of U.S. 2, a very busy corridor in northwest Montana, continues to see increases in traffic. Alongside this busy traffic, many of our students often walk or ride their bikes to school each day, as we do not receive state funding to provide bus transportation due to the geographical size of our district. As a result, we have a high number of students walking along the highway in the mornings and afternoons each school day. Without proper sidewalks on U.S. 2, students are sometimes forced to walk on the actual highway, as snow piles in the winter and dirt and mud in other seasons make the shoulders of the road almost impossible to walk on.

Traffic in excess of 50 miles per hour is unfortunately common on this highly traveled stretch of highway, and we have witnessed several wrecks involving vehicles at the busy intersection of U.S. 2 and Evergreen Drive. In informal observations gathered over a nine-day period last year, we noted an average of 7.2 vehicles per day that disregard the red light on U.S. 2 during the morning and afternoon crossing hours.

Every time I see a student walking along the shoulder of the road very close to the highway or on the highway itself, it concerns me for his or her safety.

Because of so many people’s efforts, much of that worry will be eased. The awareness, funding, and support for sidewalks will now help provide safe routes to schools, supporting our more than 650 students district-wide.

To Gov. Greg Gianforte, thank you for recognizing the power and possibility when public and private partnerships work together to benefit a community and for putting your full support behind this partnership to help see it to fruition.

To Rep. Tony Brockman, you have been a true representative of the Evergreen community. Your advocacy, commitment, follow-through, communication, and availability is admirable and truly appreciated.

To the Evergreen School District Board of Trustees, board chair Tamara Williams, vice chair Dave Lowitz, and trustees Jon Wilson, Sr., Paul Wigle, Jim Waggener, Zach Bernheim, and Chris Goodwin, you have never wavered in your support of ensuring safe routes to schools for students. Thank you for supporting this project and for partnering with our community groups to ensure Phase I and Phase II of sidewalks for our students.

To the Evergreen Chamber of Commerce and Connie McCubbins, thank you for loving this community and for always highlighting and supporting the innovative, positive, and exciting things that are happening in Evergreen.

And, finally, to the Evergreen Community Partners, a group whose vision has been bigger and stronger than most I have witnessed in my 28 years in education, thank you. Darla Harmon, Daren Engellant, TJ Wendt, Charles Lapp, Sara Stahlberg, and BJ Lupton, without you, these sidewalks would not be possible. I never took a school superintendent course in college on “How to Get Sidewalks in Your Unincorporated Community,” but, if such a course was offered, the Evergreen Community Partners could teach it at a master level.

From community advocates to the Governor and everyone in between, these sidewalks are a result of a tremendous amount of time, effort, collaboration, compromise, and leadership.

Thank you again to everyone who has made sidewalks for safe routes to school possible. I am so proud to be a part of the Evergreen School District and the Evergreen community. Look what we have been able to accomplish by working together!

Thank you, Evergreen!

Laurie Barron is the Superintendent of Evergreen School District.

    Members of the Evergreen community celebrate the start of a project to build sidewalks along U.S. 2 on April 18, 2024. (Kate Heston/Daily Inter Lake)