Hill County turns 100 today. For a centenarian, the place is pretty vibrant.
The Havre Daily News is conducting a yearlong effort to review our history, examine where we are today and take a look at where we will go in the future.
From what we've seen so far, we feel pretty pleased.
What will we build on for our future? We have a pretty exciting community in Hill County today.
Among the promising things:
• Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway is under progressive management that promises top keep Havre at the center of its Montana operations. For more than a century, the railroad has been a vital part of our economy, and it continues to be today.
• We have a good hospital that strives to meet the needs of the community and is meeting the challenges of the rapidly changing rural health care industry.
• We have an exciting college that provides the community and its young people with a valuable education, even as it has to fight to gain recognition from the rest of the state university system that is centered in the more populous and prosperous parts of the state.
• We have an interesting history that intrigues the rest of the state and country.
• Major efforts are under way to let the rest of the world know what attractions this area has to offer.
• And probably more important than anything else, we have an agricultural system that provides valuable foods to the rest of the country and world.
The many advantages this community has to offer should be helpful in garnering resources to fight the problems we face.
• Every year, as we cover graduation ceremonies, we know that many of the graduates will attend colleges elsewhere and never return except for holiday visits. Many would like to stay in this very special part of the world, but there are not enough economic opportunities for them and their families. Growth of technology will make it easier for people to work in a variety of fields without leaving their homes. We've got to take advantage of these technologies to offer employment for our young people.
• There are pockets of poverty in our area. Unemployment and lack of hope dominate in places such as Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation. An incredible amount of human talent is being wasted because people are out of work. The tribal government is taking action to create economic development opportunities at Rocky Boy, but the problems there didn't develop because of Rocky Boy residents, and they won't be solved unless the outside world pitches in to help. An economic boom at Rocky Boy would help every person on the Hi-Line.
• Transportation into our area remains subpar. A four-lane Highway 2 to bring goods. services and visitors to our area is essential. Reliable air service to and from Havre would help just about every business in the community. Amtrak brings people to our area, and people who visit Havre during brief layovers often write the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce looking for information about our community. A transit system that brings people from Fort Belknap, Harlem, Chinook and Box Elder to Havre and Great Falls has been a tremendous help to people throughout the Hi-Line. Wouldn't it be great to see that expanded to Kremlin, Rudyard and Chester?
• The biggest boon to the area's economy would come from increasing the number of visitors to the area from Alberta and Saskatchewan. While states along the southern border want the gates shut and fences built, we would like to see borders become more porous. Let our Canadian friends — tourists and business people — come here easier and not just within a limited time frame that the ports are open.
For a century, the Hi-Line has been know for its peoples' sense of independence. May that always be one of our strongest traits. But let it not deter us from what we need — state and federal help to solve some our problems.
Help from Helena and Washington — some money, but mostly just understanding of the problems of rural areas — is essential to help the Hi-Line plan for its future.
If we are to meet these challenges — to say nothing of needed repairs to St. Mary's diversion and construction of systems that will provide safe drinking water to our rural communities — we are going to have to create partnerships with those from outside our area.
As we enter Hill County's second century, let's hope our elected officials will not hesitate to scream at the top their lungs to get the attention of state and federal officials to help us solve the problems we face.
We on the Hi-Line have paid our fair share of taxes. We need some of that money back. If that means federal allocations, fine. If that means, heaven forbid, earmarks, so be it.