Population growth | Whitefish pilot

The debate around the proposed Mountain Gateway project north of Whitefish has sparked new interest in where and how future growth is expected to occur in the Flathead area. This is not a debate that many communities in the West and especially small towns have because they would like growth.

Maybe not none, but at least some growth since tens of millions of people left rural communities in the second half of the 20th century and continue to lose young people to big cities. With them go jobs, business, a tax base and ultimately hope. In Montana, 18 counties recorded growth rates of 0% or less between 2010 and 2020, and only 3 recorded 20% or more. Flathead was in the 10-20% range. Bozeman has joined four other micro-zones to experience the fastest growing in the United States.

According to Brookings, some small towns, suburbs and micro-areas saw growth during the Covid pandemic, as we certainly experienced here in Montana (particularly Kalispell and Helena). However, this growth has generally been in permanent family relocations where residence, employment, education and related family needs are met and people serve. In contrast, Flathead continues to grow largely in the vacation home market.

In addition to issues of infrastructure, density and municipal services, there is the issue of affordable housing and labor. Only Whitefish is making a real effort to implement policies that might actually expand some affordable housing as the county as a whole is in crisis.

The July 2021 Residential Market Statistics report showed that residential sales compared to July 2020 were up 175% in Lakeside (with a median selling price of $ 1,120,000), 51% in Columbia Falls ( median price of $ 575,400), 37% to Kalispell (median price of $ 445,000) and 5% to Bigfork and Whitefish (with median prices of $ 620,000 and $ 575,000 respectively).

Can one of our children afford it? It’s time to rethink our future.

Pat Malone, Columbia Falls

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