Restoration Resumes at One of Montana’s Most Important Parks
It's one of the smallest state parks in a very big state. But Fort Owen State Park at Stevensville is also one of the most important in Montana, telling an important part of the story of the pioneering ingenuity that made us what we would become.
The park, which lies just north of Stevensville is the site of the fort established by John Owen in 1850, setting up a trading post that would become the cultural and economic crossroads of the Bitterroot Valley. But the history goes even deeper, back to 1841 when Father DeSmet established the first Catholic Church in the Northern Rockies, becoming the first white settlement long before Montana was a territory.
And it's a place of firsts, as Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks point out, including "the first sawmill in Montana, the first gristmill, the first water right, the first agricultural development and the first school for settlers."
Over the years, the future of the fort had been in question, until the owner of the surrounding ranch reached an agreement with FWP that has allowed improvements, such as a better access road and parking.
But for history buffs, the most exciting work has been on the fort itself, where a multi-year restoration is underway. That includes rehabilitation of the main barracks, and saving the old adobe walls. That's saving a form of construction that was very rare in Montana.
FWP is reminding visitors that portions of Fort Owen State Park will be closed periodically this spring and summer as that preservation work continues to stabilize the remaining adobe wall. The work is being done in phases, so some of the rooms in the barracks and other portions of the park may be closed from time to time into the early weeks of summer.
You can read more about Fort Owen at the FWP website.