Lincoln County, the northwestern corner of the state, is the leading contender to prove my assertion that county numbers have little (or nothing) to do with the population of the county in 1930. According to that Census, there were 7,089 residents in Lincoln County, a number which would have given the county number 27, had population been the sole criteria. Nor was Lincoln County the last county created in Montana. That distinction goes to Petroleum County (# 55). Lincoln County, taken from the western end of Flathead County (# 7), became a separate entity on March 9, 1909, with twenty-eight more counties yet to be formed. In fact, a measure was introduced in the 1999 state legislature to re-number the counties, using current population figures. This measure failed, but had it succeeded, the 2010 Census would put Lincoln County at number 10, the largest change of all fifty-six counties.
Most US school children could guess at the namesake for the county, even if they had never heard of this remote part of Montana. Yes, indeed, it was named for President Abraham Lincoln, the man who was President when Montana Territory was created in 1864. The county is quite mountainous, with the Purcell (or Percell) Mountains in the northwest, the Salish Mountains on the east, and the Cabinet Mountains to the south. The Kootenai River flows into the county from British Columbia and exits to Idaho where it turns north and returns to British Columbia. Other rivers include the Yaak and the Fisher, both of which are tributaries of the Kootenai. Just inside the county's southern line, the Thompson Lakes are the source for the Thompson River which flows south through Sanders County (# 35) to join the Clark Fork River near the town of Thompson Falls. The heights of the mountain peaks in both the Purcell and Cabinet ranges are such that the scenery is visual confusing. The lowest point in Montana, less than 2000 feet in elevation, is where the Kootenai River leaves the state just a few miles from the town of Troy.
The Lincoln County Courthouse
Taken July 26th, 2009
(If you look at the photo full sized, you'll note that difference in brick where a rather plain new extension was added to a beautifully decorated existing building.)
At the time the county was created, the two main communities in the new county, Libby and Eureka, fought for the chance to be seat. Libby won, and today it is a charming town of almost 2,700 residents. It has a dark side though. Historically the two primary industries in Lincoln County have been timber and mining. Today the mines and lumber mills are closed, but their legacy lives on. In 1919, E.N. Alley bought some mining claims about seven miles outside of Libby, and set up the Zonolite Company to mine vermiculite which was used in several different building materials. In 1963, the W.R. Grace Company bought Alley's firm and continued mining vermiculite. By this time, many Libby residents had become ill with mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases as the vermiculite from the Libby mine was contaminated with that substance. One source estimates that while the mine was in operation (it closed in 1990), 80% of the world's supply of vermiculite came from the Libby mine. Today the mine and the towns of Libby and Troy are part of an EPA superfund cleanup attempt that by 2010 had removed 900,000 cubic yards of contaminated material. But the work is not done, and Libby residents continue to become ill. Reams of paper have gone into the various reports on this tragedy, and on the trial against W.R. Grace and Company, who, litigants claim, knew about the danger but kept the mine open for almost thirty years.
Yaak River, northwestern Lincoln County
Taken July 26th, 2009
Today, tourism and recreation are the main industries for Lincoln County. If Montana is The Last Best Place, as it has been called, then the Yaak is, perhaps, the Last Best Place to Hideout. The community's website (seems like an oxymoron if you know Yaak), states that "The Yaak offers an excellent and definitely realistic get-away from the hustle and bustle of city environments. Cell phones don't work here, and internet access is either from satellite or dial-up." And yet, Time Magazine wrote about the Yaak in 1963. New York Times best selling author Rick Bass lived in the Yaak for over twenty years, until he moved to Missoula in 2011. For a while there was even a local newsletter printed in the area under the name The New Yaak Times. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a reference to that publication on line. I can state that a drive up Secondary road 508, along the Yaak River, will take you through some of the most amazing scenery you can imagine, and I'd even recommend a stop at the Yaak River Tavern and Mercantile while you're at it. (It is the only place for a hundred miles or so to get a drink or a sandwich).
Kootenai Falls at High Water
Kootenai River, by U.S. Highway 2, west of Libby MT
Taken April 13th, 2014
If you're not up for a long, leisurely drive through the woods, there is plenty to see in Lincoln County from the two U.S. highways that cross the county. US 2, the High Line, runs across the county from east to west, and roughly halfway between Libby and Troy you'll pass (or, I hope stop at) a large pullout above the Kootenai Falls. While you can see some spectacular water from the pullout, take the time and hike down the trail, past all the informative signage, cross the railroad tracks on the pedestrian bridge, and get right down up close and personal with the river itself. If you've got the courage to do so (I didn't), cross the river on the historic swinging bridge. Take along a picnic lunch and spend some time in this beautiful setting. Just don't get too close to the water. It moves quickly and there are a lot of rocks that you'll hit if you inadvertently find yourself floating downstream.
The other U.S. Highway that crosses the county is the north-south route U.S. 93, which runs from Wickenburg, Arizona to the Canadian border just north of Eureka, Montana, Lincoln County's other incorporated city. My original thought for a final picture, having written over 56,000 words and having posted nearly 350 photographs from around the state, was to put in a picture of the U.S. Customs Office at the Roosville border crossing, showing us now leaving the United States. That said, my last two visits to that particular border crossing (coming back into the U.S., I should add) have been a traveler's nightmare, and I don't care to revisit it. I will add that both times, the agent I dealt with was the same man--someone I hope never to see again. So I'll close, instead, with this view of the Whitefish Range, looking east from U.S. 93 south of Eureka. A final reminder that Montana means mountains.
The Whitefish Range
Northeastern Lincoln County
Taken July 26th, 2009