Our next stop for groceries was in Forsyth, which proved both an eerie parallel and a strong contrast to our Kalispell visit. Of course, both are in Montana, and occupy river valleys: Kalispell in the Flathead, and Forsyth in the Yellowstone. Both cities are the seats of their respective counties, and both are the commercial and social hubs of their respective areas. We came into both late in the travel day, still an hour or so from our destination. In both places, we found a “familiar face” for our grocery needs-Rosauer’s in Kalispell, and an IGA in Forsyth.
So much for the similarities; how do these cities differ?
Geographically, for one. Kalispell sits in a region of evergreen forest, glacially-fed rivers, and high mountains less than 100 miles from Canada. Forsyth, far on the other side of the Continental Divide, occupies a fortunate riverside spot in an otherwise arid plain, 90 miles from Billings. So, you go 90 miles, and you’re in…Billings. No offense, but I’ve been there and found it…underwhelming. I’d rather go to Bozeman.
Geography has shaped the destiny and character of these places. While both rely on tourism for their bread and butter, Forsyth’s history as a mining and railroad town seems etched into the very mortar of its buildings. Kalispell has been able to parlay its regional-hub status into successful careers in health care and education, giving it a more cosmopolitan feel-for a city with just under 20,000 residents. Still, that’s 10 times Forsyth’s population. Furthermore, Flathead County (of which Kalispell is the seat) holds 90,000 people, while the city’s website claims some 140,000 reside in the Flathead Valley. Rosebud County, on the other hand, lays claim to a mere 9500 souls and “over 1.5 square miles per person.” This falls within the old U.S. Census definition of “Unsettled,” which set the bar at 2 people per square mile.
We were understandably relieved to find an actual grocery store in such a small town; not only for ourselves, but for what it says about the strength of a community. Some small towns lack even that much, and the issue of rural food deserts is a thorny one indeed. Considering the large area, low population density, and lack of other options, I would say that we were in one in Forsyth.
For all that, the store was decent, if a bit tired-looking. (I could swear I took pictures, but they don’t seem to be in the folder with the others. Sorry.) The whole thing could probably fit within the produce section of our nearby Safeway, but there was at least some of everything available. Produce (apples from Washington!) and meats were from nearby sources: the Montana Cattle Company out of Laurel, just west of Billings; the Stampede Packing Company of Kalispell (no website available); and Cloverdale, located in Mandan, North Dakota, a rough day’s drive east. As a stop on the way, it suited us well enough. For regular weekly shopping, though, I think it would get old pretty fast.