6 Ways Missoula Montana Changed in the 20 Years I’ve Been Gone
Good news, Montana, your youth are in fact coming back.
One of the most common narratives in Montana is that young people are raised here and then they move away for school, or to find a job, and never bring those skills back to the state. Not me. I came back.
I managed to miss a pretty significant period in Missoula’s history in the roughly 20 years I've been gone. Anyone can say their hometown changed while they were away, but not everyone can say that in the time they were gone, somebody wrote a controversial book about their town.
I’ve connected with friends, old and new, and they’ve asked me how Missoula has changed. These are a few things that really stood out to me.
The Missoula Skyline
South Reserve Street
There used to be a movie theater at the end of Reserve, now there’s a Mackenzie River Pizza. The first time I drove up to the intersection I thought I was in the wrong place. And that’s not the only movie theater that’s gone—remember the one on Brooks?
It used to be a few buildings including the Bon Marche (there’s a throwback) and a parking lot, but now it’s buildings made of steel and glass where it used to be just brick. If there’s one street in Missoula that feels like it came from somewhere else, I’d say it would have to be Front Street.
Missoula Public Library
If you’ve had the opportunity to visit the new, award-winning public library, and you’ve made your way to the fourth floor, then you’ll know how spectacular the view is. Being in the middle of Missoula and seeing a bird’s eye view is a rare treat. That view is available to anyone now.
Malfunction Junction sucked before, but now I barely understand how to use it. I avoid the area near Garfield altogether.
The Beartracks Bridge was also a surprise. The first time I walked across the luxuriously wide pedestrian sidewalk, I felt like I was in Boston walking across the bridge over the Charles river.
There are also a few more roundabouts than I remember.
More people. Yes, it’s obvious, but the difference was striking.
Standing in Line
Dare I say, Missoula feels more metropolitan than it used to (see my comments about Front Street above), and I think standing in lines is evidence of that. Sure, you’ll stand in lines at major events, but the line at The Break Espresso is regularly six people deep on a Saturday morning now. Not complaining, I don’t really mind lines, but there weren’t as many lines before.
This is a change that I think is really cool. And after living in Billings where a bus ride could last up to 2 hours, it’s great to be back in a city that can utilize public transit efficiently.
It seems like there was a protest or rally once a week when I was growing up. Even the signs that said “Honk if you (fill in your political issue of choice here)” are gone. But there are certainly more nonprofit organizations, and I suspect Missoula is still full of activists. They’re just online now.
This list, of course, is selective. There are many more things that have changed in the last 20 years or so. You know what to do—drop your observations in the comments.