Read about Gordon’s experience weatherizing the Flathead;
To anyone who has been there, The Flathead Valley holds a certain mythos: a magical land in northwest Montana where stunning lakes meet massive mountain faces, bison roam free on the National Bison Range, ski resorts and and cute towns abound, all within an hour of Glacier National Park. Many residents say they originally went there just for a week-long vacation, but decades later, they still haven’t left. Having spent the past two weeks in the area in the name of weatherization, I understand very well where they are coming from. I managed to leave on schedule, but I won’t say I wasn’t tempted to drop everything and stay.
The Flathead is somewhat unique in that, despite world-class outdoor recreation and natural beauty, it has yet to be fully developed and commercialized. Take Whitefish for example, a resort town 15 minutes from a major ski area. We happened to be there during Winter Carnival, and downtown was hopping with activity over the weekend, but come Sunday afternoon the crowds vanished and the town suddenly seemed cozy and almost quaint. The ski resort still has a local vibe, and long-time residents told us about how just a few years ago they used to skin up to many of the runs now served by chair. One local told us that the area is blessed with geographic isolation: even in this age of globalization, northwest Montana is still pretty far from anything.
Yes, the Flathead has money. Whitefish may be the only place in Montana with a crepe restaurant adjoined to a day spa, and parts of Flathead Lake are lined with sprawling mansions and private docks. But like anywhere, there’s another side to it, too, a side perhaps experienced best by, well, weatherizing homes. In Whitefish, we weatherized the home of a family who had never skied, largely because of the expense. In Kalispell, we weatherized the home of a family originally from Mexico, and got the rare chance to practice our Spanish. We weatherized the home of a motorcyle-racing Evel Knievel fanatic, and the home of a Vietnam War vet recently returned from a 400,000-person motorcycle rally in Washington DC to raise awareness for POWs and MIAs. We weatherized the home of a seven-member family from Ukraine where the kids served as translators, as well as the home of a retiree from Washington who preferred Montana in part because the “immigrant problem” wasn’t so bad. We also weatherized the home of a retired Boeing engineer who had the most extensive weapons collection I have ever seen.
It is easy to put a region into a box, labelling it “rich” or “poor,” “beautiful” or “ugly,” “Republican” or “Democrat.” These labels may be useful, but it is important to remember that the real world is more complex. Even in the ritziest ski town, there are people on low-income energy assistance who could really use some window plastic. The Flathead is a wonderfully beautiful and complex place, and before long I know I’ll be back.
Gordon Bauer recently graduated from Williams College with highest honors in chemistry. He has participated in a number of research projects within the field of renewable energy, including developing improved materials for organic photovoltaic and thermoelectric devices. More recently he completed a research project evaluating the carbon mitigation potential of solar cookers in Nicaragua. Gordon served with NCAT this year, weatherizing low income homes and educating communities about energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies.