The end of an era on Big Mountain Rd.

As I cycle down Big Mountain Road this summer, dodging developer vehicles and construction debris left behind by the relentless stream of trucks heading from development to development, when I reach the bottom of the mountain, I can’t help but ask yourself… as we clearly emerge from the humble past of our sleepy ski town roots and into an urbanized playground for the ultra-rich, how is this become so different this time around? Do those who move in have a completely different purpose than those who originally came here?

Gone is the beloved Cowgirl Coffee Roasters drive-thru stand of over 15 years, owned by mom and pop, and replaced by an outsider who owns Starbucks with no idea what’s good for the community, what’s culture and apparently with the flick of a pen from someone who has more zeros in their bank account, change has happened. Not for the better, but just because.

My five-year-old rental home at the bottom of Big Mountain Road, and the home of many others for years before me, sat vacant six months after I was forced to move, along with six other residences in a tightly knit ski bum community, albeit not providing a glamorous visual aesthetic to a society increasingly valued by materialism with blatantly opposing views of the once hardworking loggers and true mountaineers who forged this Stumptown. No, it’s a completely different scene – and sadly not one driven by healthy choices or one that embraces community, culture, and the importance of history. In are strangers, whom I honestly welcome with open arms because I too was a stranger in 2003 calling Montana my home. The difference is in my approach to moving here – I came here to find something different, which I could adapt to and see if, as Dylan says, “the weather is right for me”. And indeed he did; I found so much more here than in the dusty, windy little town of Iowa Park, Texas. Here I found people’s patience, understanding and a culture of hard knocks that feeds the soul and turns men and women into legends! Where people came here for the purpose of what was already there – exploring, skiing, hunting, fishing, finding peace in the mountains, farming, dreaming, writing, playing music, passing traditions on to the next generation, etc

As I live this life, I see the old give way to the new and it hasn’t always been good, like in this case. The visionaries who came here in the beginning are passing on, and instead of tradition being passed on, history being preserved, good old boys and their families helping a young family in the making… no, that’s quite different. New York-based private equity firms with partners in China (or similar) are buying up real estate at unprecedented levels, foreigners no longer come here to soak it up, they can afford to create the amenities of home here for themselves and thus essentially replacing their point of view while keeping everything else the same – hence a Starbucks instead of Cowgirl Coffee. The ski-goers are replaced by loyal millennials who’ve never grabbed a bus table or trashed an errand a day in their lives, but sport a Carhartt beanie like they know how to shovel a sidewalk. Generations that knew how to work hard, earn money, and pay their dues are being replaced by a legitimate ideology that cannot have a meaningful conversation between two opposing perspectives without being “triggered.” Lost in translation from one generation to the next is the context of what made this culture what it is. There is no one to blame, there is only one action to take.

If a city rejects a proposal for a developer to move forward on a project—as in the case of the bottom of Big Mountain Road—and the state subsequently revokes the city’s ability to prevent development from occurring, that which gets lost in translation of this is that for the many months and most likely year that passes while this bureaucracy takes place, the real people affected by this are marginalized and left in the dust…I’m still” homeless” and yet my house remained empty until a few days ago. There was really nowhere for me to go either, and I wonder where the other residents ended up as well.

As Jack Johnson asked, “Where have all the good people gone?”

Why do the “locals” support this? Why are they cashing in? Ski bums-turned-realtors and general contractors who complain about traffic on Wisconsin Avenue while complicit in the problem are at a moral crossroads between their soul and their pocketbook, and the soul is losing. When will the couple who could sell their property for millions stand up and reject this, and do the right thing – maybe sell it to a promising couple looking to start a family? The people who received these opportunities 15 years ago are not following the movement, they are the ones who are taking advantage of them. Where is the platform to make this a reality? Every day I search Craigslist for a new home, hoping to find someone reasonable, but it’s a sold-out market. Where have the ethics gone? Where is our community going? A year from now, a clear sign of Whitefish’s new “culture” will be sitting at the bottom of Big Mountain Road for all passers-by to see and time will tell if we make wise decisions. I hope we can love what happens to change on us, but real change has to start within each of us. My name is Chas Vergauwen and I first moved to Whitefish in 2003.

Chas Vergauwen, whitefish

#era #Big #Mountain

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