Former tourists grateful to be locals

For the past several years, my wife, Kari, and I have come to Jefferson County to soak at Boulder Hot Springs Inn, Spa and Retreat Center. We’ve celebrated birthdays and anniversaries here. The water and the intimate nature of the place – which emphasizes healing and recovery – attracted us to the rustic, historic refuge. We’d travel three-and-a-half hours from Lewistown to spend a magical weekend at what we considered our new favorite place in Montana. 

With each visit, Kari and I would become more and more intrigued by the area, captivated by the beauty of “Peace Valley.” We’d eagerly await the next opportunity to return to what we considered paradise. I was so enamored with it I pitched an article on the late Anne Wilson Schaef and the history behind the hot springs to Montana Quarterly Magazine and wrote a feature that ran in the spring 2020 edition, right before the world changed forever. This assignment brought us to the Heritage Center, where we were charmed by Ellen Rae Thiel and Nancy Alley. We also heard stories of the resort’s past from Connie Grenz over breakfast in the hotel’s dining room. Hot Springs manager Kerri Kumasaka was also a wealth of information, not to mention a gracious host, always making sure we had a tray with sparkling grape juice and ice brought to our room when we’d stay for a special occasion.

Once COVID regulations started to lift and we finally returned to the hot springs, our passion for Boulder was stronger than ever. We started talking about moving here, and even stopped over at the library on Main Street, where Kari envisioned working. I’d heard good things about the Monitor and had met former publisher Jan Anderson and her husband David –who have courteously extended invites to visit about the role in the community – during a Montana Newspaper Association award ceremony in 2018. Every so often I’d check journalismjobs.com to see if a position opened up.

Sure enough, something did, and after a conversation with Monitor publisher Keith Hammonds in April, the interest was no longer hypothetical. 

“Want to move to Boulder?” I asked Kari, with newfound conviction.

She smiled, and, wide-eyed, said “yes.”

We’d been warned there was hardly any place to live in the area, and we certainly found that to be true, but, God willing – after commuting from Helena for a few months – a rental opened up, and we’re finally getting settled in, living what for so long was only a dream. 

Kari and I at Boulder Hot Springs in 2019, enjoying a restful, romantic getaway

Of course, reality sets in, but there are still many moments each week that serve as reminders we’re still in the honeymoon period. It’s a refreshing feeling, and one that we envision lasting a long time.

Things are coming together here. Kari did indeed get a job at the library, and I’m enjoying being at the helm of the Monitor, a role in the community that has given me the good fortune of meeting so many all around the county, a new world I’m honored to explore.

The job is challenging. I have a lot to learn about the area, the people, the issues, the ins and outs, and I feel blessed to have the chance. There’s so much to discover, and Kari and I are both up for it. It’s intriguing and intoxicating to make a life in a place we only knew as tourists, and now that this is our new home, we feel just as lucky to be here, in the heart of Peace Valley, tucked away under the Elkhorn Mountains.

“It feels like we’re on vacation,” Kari said while we soaked at the hot springs last week. Before living here, hot springs were only available to us while on vacation or what so often felt like too quick of a weekend getaway.

“It does,” I agreed, “but it’s better than that. We’re home now.”

We’re just getting started here, and we couldn’t be more grateful for the warm welcome and response. Thank you for making Jefferson County feel like a new home, and for helping us find a home. Grenz and Brud Smith both helped us get situated, as did my esteemed co-worker Pat Lewis. Kari and I also feel fortunate to have a newfound friends in Ryan and Leah Lewis at the Free Enterprise Radon Health Mine, who we knew briefly before moving here and who have been gracious helping us get situated. Ryan even helped us move. Drew Dawson, Mechele Anderson, Chick Bruce and many others have been so kind and welcoming, inviting us for meals and making us feel like part of the community. Thank you, all. We look forward to meeting you and getting to know you better as we continue to embrace this new chapter in our lives and make the most of living in our favorite vacation spot.

(as published in the Boulder Monitor Dec. 7, 2022)

About CharliesTrail

Originally from Indianapolis, Denison is a writer and musician who has picked up culture and influences from eccentrics all over the U.S. and overseas. He is a University of Kentucky Journalism School grad and an award-winning Montana journalist. Through the years he's had work published by "Chicken Soup From the Soul," DVD Netflix, Montana Quarterly Magazine, NUVO and Americana Highways. He has a solo album, "Whispers of the Lonely," and continues to chip away at his first novel. Currently Denison is the editor of The Boulder Monitor in Boulder, Montana, where he lives with his wife.
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