By JENNIFER SLAYDEN
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Valentine’s Day? For me, the holiday is synonymous with chocolate. Chocolate equals love. Of course, most anything I ponder is associated with chocolate. Life is not a bowl of cherries, it is a box of chocolates.
Missoula is like a lovely box of chocolates. The neighborhoods may all be housed in our great city, but each area has its own unique taste, feel, and characteristic. I questioned some friends who live in a few different sections of our town on why they love their individual neighborhood. Despite the different locations where they all reside, one thing is certain: Missoulians are as passionate about their location as I have been about chocolate most of my life!
When I was growing up, I looked forward to the sampler packets of molded chocolate that would house individual flavors that, to the eye, had only slight variations of color and shape. There were many times I would take a bite out of a piece of chocolate, and a burst of unexpected flavor would ensue. Often, I would have to nibble on ten pieces before I could find my favorite gooey caramel chocolate mix. If you are wondering why I didn’t read the flavor guide on the box, it is because I’ve always been a kinesthetic learner. Plus, it was more fun. Why else would Whitman have named the product a Sampler box?
I sampled plenty of neighborhoods around Missoula in college, living in several different areas before settling down and raising my family in Bonner. One of my favorite neighborhoods was the lower Rattlesnake. For you out-of-towners it really is a neighborhood, not a menu item! My friend Megan McNamer (who calls herself a dilettante but is really a brilliant writer) and her husband, a lawyer, have owned and lived in the neighborhood since 1989.
“We used to love it that our kids went half a block to elementary school for a couple years (back when it was Prescott), and not too much farther for the rest of their education. Our neighborhood kid population ebbs and flows, right now it is flowing. At its height, there was an annual street parade with big wheels, bikes, dogs, etc. And when those kids grew up into teenagers, there were many sets of eyes monitoring their progress and behavior — a mixed blessing, from the kids’ point of view.
“I like the cozy proximity to others. No big yards or privacy hedges to speak of. I have a fond memory of a six-year-old neighbor padding down the street in his footie pajamas to tell a ten-year-old neighbor to quit practicing her trumpet so loud. Though when our sons’ punk rock band practiced weekly, a decade later, making our house literally shake, no one seemed to mind.”
Like many areas around Missoula, the Rattlesnake boasts accessibility to hiking and nature out the back door. This is one feature John Floridis, a Professional Musician and Radio Program Producer, appreciates from the home he has owned for 18 years in the Upper Rattlesnake. He enjoys being close to both Mount Jumbo and the great Rattlesnake Wilderness area. He states, “good quality neighbors” add to his pleasant experience.
Across the river, in the Lewis and Clark area, UM Professor Steve Krutek and elementary teacher Kinza Cusic have owned their home for four years. Even in the heart of town, they have open space in the nearby parks.
“We enjoy the close proximity to an excellent elementary school (Lewis and Clark) and the park that abuts the school. In addition, we are fond of the three “pocket parks” that are within three blocks of our house. We also like being close to Playfair Park, Sentinel High School, and the Fairgrounds, as two of our children are involved with soccer and/or hockey and we also enjoy these sports!”
Steve also appreciates the easy access to Pattee Canyon trails, and downtown.
“We love the access we have to downtown via a walk or ride through great neighborhoods, not to mention two free bus lines that border our neighborhood.”
Teacher Linda Burr also resides in the Lewis and Clark area, and also voices appreciation for Mountain Line buses. In addition, favorite stores, the University, and wooded trails all within a short distance.
Over on the Westside, Rhanda Johnson describes what makes her love her neighborhood so much.
“I love being three blocks minutes from the California street bridge, which means 5 minutes away from a lovely nature experience. I always see ducks, geese, muskrats, beaver, bald eagles, osprey, blue herons ( my favorite), and fish either in the water or in one of said birds’ mouths. You can sit and listen, practice photography, paddle board , swim, raft, or take a long walk on the river trail. I can look out the window and see the sky changing color in the west and be on the bridge in time to watch the sunset. I can calculate the moon rise or sunrise and spend precious moments in awe watching them occur. It is a haven 3 blocks away from home.”
Missoula’s trail system connects Tony Banovich, Run Wild Missoula Executive Director and Race Director of the Missoula Marathon, to quick and easy access from his Central Missoula apartment to downtown. Tony’s family splits their time between Plains and Missoula. They enjoy the fact that they are practically next to Missoula’s wonderful Good Food Store. He appreciates that he has “direct access to Milwaukee Trail, Kim Williams Trail, and Bitterroot Branch Trail.”
Dan Spencer, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Montana, has enjoyed owning a house in the Target Range area for four years. He describes the picturesque setting beautifully:
“I love living on the edge of McCauley Butte with all the wildlife that gathers on the Butte year-round. I love the open vistas of the Missoula Valley, and being able to see the mountains to the north from Chpaaq’n Peak in the NW to Stuart Peak in the NE. I love the stars at night and sunrise and sunset in our long summer days. I love the quiet of fresh snow in the fields in the winter, walks along the Bitterroot River at McClay Flat, and hikes with our dog at Blue Mountain.”
One sweet thread throughout Missoula is the love and support neighbors show throughout our town. Grace Mears, who has owned her home on the Slant Street area for 25 years, shares this:
“I enjoy visiting with my neighbors and the way we all “look out for each other”. Many times I seen neighbors shoveling each others sidewalks, helping with broken down vehicles, finding stray dogs and keeping them until they can get a hold of owners. All the neighborhood kids know each other as they all play together in the neighborhood park. (right across the street from my house).”
This sentiment of neighborly love is echoed by Megan:
“We help each other out fairly regularly. When we had the avalanche a couple years ago people were literally running up the street with shovels. Some were actual first responders living nearby; others looked like they should be first responders. I stayed out of the way of these more competent people.”
as well as Steve:
“We love our neighbors, as they have been extremely welcoming, especially those who have also raised their families in the same neighborhood over forty years ago!”
With great views, miles of trails, free bus service, rivers, good food and genuine neighborly folks, Missoula offers a unique living experience for residents in all the neighborhoods.
Even though these are just a few sample areas, the more I talk to people the more I realize how truly enamored most Missoulians are with the neighborhoods in which they choose to buy, rent, and reside.
If you are trying to decide whether to buy in Missoula, get a taste of all the neighborhoods in and around our town. Find your preference. Or call a Realtor (like me!) Go back to those Sunday drives. In the meantime, Happy Valentine’s Day! Speaking of sundaes…it is time to go have one. With chocolate on top, of course.
Jen Slayden wears many hats: Mother, Real Estate Agent with Main Street Realty, teacher for the non profit music program Center for Music, UM alumni, runner, and supporter of all things local. Her RealChange program dedicates a generous amount of her Real Estate commissions to be given back locally to organizations of her client’s choice. You can find her on Facebook, or give her a call at 406-370-0300.