Glacier Rail Park and Kalispell Trail promise transformation

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A sign lets those arriving know where to park for the Glacier Rail Park Grand Opening Ceremony on Monday, October 8, in Kalispell.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Regional economic developer Kim Morisaki recited a quote typically attributed to Roman philosopher Seneca: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Morisaki referenced the aphorism earlier this month when talking about the Glacier Rail Park and the years of work, risk-taking and unprecedented collaboration that preceded Monday’s grand opening of the 42-acre park off Whitefish Stage Road.

Luck is nearly always involved in a successful economic development endeavor. Yet it would seem that the realization of the Glacier Rail Park and the Kalispell Trail that will follow have relied more on focused and tenacious preparation than luck. Opportunity has been seized.

More than one lifelong resident of Kalispell has said the rail park and the Kalispell Trail have the potential to transform the city more than any comparable economic development endeavor in recent memory.

We agree.

The city of Kalispell, building on the work of Tom Jentz and Katharine Thompson King and others in the city’s planning department, worked with the Flathead County Economic Development Authority and other partners to make this happen.

People have fretted for decades about how revitalization of Kalispell’s downtown was being hampered by the rail lines that cut through its core. It became clear that the rails needed to go. But that raised a troubling question: What to do about the two businesses that still relied on the rails, CHS Inc. and Northwest Drywall and Roofing Supply?

The city and Flathead County Economic Development Authority identified a site for a rail park. Montana’s Congressional delegation helped the park and trail project receive $10 million in federal transportation grant funding.

And CHS and Northwest Drywall agreed to relocate to the rail park after negotiations yielded financial agreements ultimately acceptable to the companies.

Much more work lies ahead, including removing the rails in downtown Kalispell and replacing them with a linear trail of about 1.5 miles. Some businesses, including SunRift Beer Co., have already established operations in proximity to the trail-to-be.

This summer, the city received input from more than 1,000 people about the design for the Kalispell Trail.

Morisaki said Monday that making the Glacier Rail Park and Kalispell Trail a reality required vision and courage.

Vision and courage can be in short supply among risk-averse public officials. We can be grateful that hasn’t been the case here.

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