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Bigfork: Culture on the Lake


Bigfork was founded in 1902 and is located on a bay where the Swan River empties into the Flathead Lake. Bigfork is one of the valley’s most picturesque and cultured villages. The lovely resort community averages a population of 1,500, although it can swell exponentially during the summer. It houses many art galleries and shops, as well as some of the finest restaurants in the valley which are touted for their exceptional menus. The Bigfork Playhouse is acclaimed for its professional performances in the summer. Bigfork also has one of the best 18-hole golf courses in the west, keeping with its role as a resort village.

In 1901, Everit Sliter platted this site for a township. It was named for its location where the Swan River, a “big fork” of the Flathead River pours into the lake. Sliter was the town’s first postmaster and ran the town’s first hotel and general store and planted the first orchard there. The steamers that navigated the lake used Bigfork Bay as a harbor. The construction of a dam, power plant and road by Bigfork Power and Light along the Swan River in the early 1900s brought a boom to the town with the influx of construction workers. Heavy logging in the years prior to World War I brought loggers and carpenters.

Bigfork later grew as a tourist town when convict labor built the East Shore Highway from 1911 to 1914. The town became a convenient stopping point for travelers on the way to Glacier National Park. The town settled into a quiet existence and changed little for almost 50 years. In the 1980s and 1990s when Montana became a destination for urban escapees, Bigfork began a metamorphosis. Eagle Bend Golf Course was constructed, and the area evolved to a resort town. In 1986, Bigfork was selected as one of the “50 Great Towns of the West” by journalist David Vokac in his book “Great Towns of the West.”

Reprinted from The Ultimate Montana Atlas and Travel Encyclopedia


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