What can one say about a park that lays on the Kootenai River and looks up at the East Face of the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness and Mountains? It is written in the eyes of the fishers who glide on up to the boat launch with stringers of fish and smiles as they look up to our majestic Cabinets. It’s in the laughter of the dancers as they swing each other joyfully below the scope of Treasure Mountain and the Nordic Log Building that houses our festivals. It’s in the sounds of the river rushing by, and in the chatter of the kingfishers as they dive
off the Kootenai River bridge for fish. It is in the whistle of the bald eagle perched in the Ponderosa pine snag, and the call of the flicker drilling holes horizontally in the young cottonwood.It’s in the splash of the osprey, who exits the river clutching a young rainbow trout.
This is a park built from the efforts of the “Salt of the Earth” folks who inhabit these unforgiving mountains. The logs were harvested in the lush forests surrounding Libby. Loggers fell, skidded and milled these timbers for the pavilion named after a late beloved mayor, Fred Brown. On a portion of this 37-acre park, local sculptors worked a bronze and copper Veteran’s Memorial Statue of a World War II combat soldier helping a wounded Iraq war era vet as they exit the battlefield. The injured soldier is depicted still shooting at the enemy, protecting his rescuer. Talk about brotherhood! The Scott Leonard bronze sculpture captures the spirit of veterans from many eras in this way. The motto reads, "Leave No One Behind and Never Give Up the Fight."
The humble men who were the impetus behind this idea always give great credit to the community support of this project. Naturally, they are reluctant to talk about themselves. Kenny Mancuso, Wes Huttman, Brent Teske, Terry Andreesson and Larry and Teri Pitcher were pleasantly somewhat surprised at how easy it was to gain local support for the project. The group has sold over 1,000 memorial bricks to date.
The committee met first in 2012 to plan, implement, design and obtain funding for the undertaking of this complex memorial. It is beautifully laid out in a circular design with stone, brick, and concrete pathways leading in to the center where the sculpture is located. The gray granite pedestal is in the shape of a pentagon, with intricately done panels dedicated to the Air Force, Coast Guard, Army, Marines, and Navy. Atop this structure, is the sculpture of the warriors, who are seemingly part of the Big Sky Country skyscape.
There is a vertical slab nearby dedicated to Harry Tripp, a winner of the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and survivor of a Japanese prison camp. Below that is a horizontal slab of memorial bricks with the names of 50-Lincoln County residents who were killed in action.
Stone sitting benches are on the outside perimeter of the circle, with names of additional donors and other slabs mention deceased Lincoln County soldiers. One holds the names of Montana Medal of Honor Winners. The overall feeling one gets is of soldiers resting in peace, after the horrible experience of war. It is a testimonial to a community that cares. The county maintains the landscaping.
The committee takes care of the memorial. It is also a tribute to the character of our local youth. Several schools in the area made donations of funds and time to help out the project, as well as many other local organizations. Jeff Gruber’s class and others share U.S. History and hold ceremonies honoring our veterans. It is an exceptionally poignant testament to our community leaders and our young people that this much respect is shown to those who have sacrificed so much for our freedom.
The testimony is also in the roar of the crowd on the baseball diamonds and the joyous chatter of families as they picnic on a Sunday afternoon. Our unique park draws visitors from all over during the Riverfront Blues Festival, and the numerous festivals that dot our calendars and draw fun celebrations to our corner of Big Sky Country including many local folks who choose this park to exchange wedding vows.
Come and enjoy Riverfront Park whether it be a festival, a short visit, or just pulling in from the river with a stringer of fish. You can’t miss it, as it is adjacent to the Kootenai River bridge just southwest of of where Highway 37 crosses the river. And as a bonus, you will find neighbors and new friends along with clean air and sunshine to welcome you to Kootenai Country Montana!