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Big Sky Country Hits Big Milestone

Some Montana residents are afraid that population growth will threaten the state's supply of open space. (Photo courtesy of J. Stephen Conn/Flickr)

I don’t know if you’ve heard the news, but Montana is kind of a big deal. Sometime in early January, our beloved home state finally surpassed the 1 million mark in the population category, leaving behind the lowly ranks of six-figure states such as Alaska, Wyoming and the Dakotas.

But although population growth often has positive economic implications, many Montanans are less-than-excited about the recent milestone. (Listen to this NPR story to hear what residents of Townsend think about the announcement.)

Growth is a touchy issue in this state, especially in the small, rural communities that dot the gaps between Montana’s major cities. As a former newspaper reporter in one of those communities, I witnessed heated debates over the preservation of open space on a number of occasions.

I’m also familiar with the popularity of the “Blame California” movement. I often found myself furrowing my brow and nodding in agreement as some old-timer went on and on about how Montana is being invaded by evil Californians. I didn’t dare confess to having been born in the Golden State, despite the fact that I’ve lived in Montana for most of my life.

The truth is, even though we’ve lost one of our many claims to fame, there’s still plenty of space to go around. If you don’t believe me, take a drive through Eastern Montana. Also, according to my calculations, cows still outnumber people 2.5 to 1, so it’s not like we have to come up with new ideas for T-shirts and bumper stickers to peddle to awe-stricken tourists (i.e. Californians).

We all love the lifestyle and quality of life associated with residing in one of the least densely populated states in the U.S. But as the overall population of the country continues to grow, the number of people living in Montana will inevitably increase as well.

Unless, as the bumper sticker described by Gov. Brian Schweitzer in the above story suggests, we can somehow convince all of those “Californians” to go to North Dakota instead.

Brooke is a 2010 graduate of The University of Montana, where she ran track and cross country for the Grizzlies. She is currently working as a writer and editor in Missoula.

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