Blackburn’s business rebounds, Highland Gathering planned

By Brian Baxter


In Kootenai Country, it’s always encouraging when local family businesses are doing well. Especially under trying circumstances. The good news is that Dave and Tammy Blackburn’s River Bend Restaurant and Saloon is back open weekly from Wednesday until Saturday. Also, their Kootenai Angler fly-fishing outfit is back on the river, and the fishing has been good lately. To boot, The Kootenai Highlanders annual Highland Gathering event is still on for July 17 and 18. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. In tough times, it is those entities that continue to strive for excellence that survive; businesses that go the extra mile, so to speak.

As you drive out towards the River Bend, it doesn’t take long before you start to relax a bit. Passing the three mile marker out Hwy. 37, one begins to see common mergansers and goldeneye ducks along the Kootenai River’s pools.

At Osprey Landing boat launch, the Osprey and Bald eagles begin to appear. Some flying, some fishing, and this time of year, many in their nests. At about the 13 mile marker, at 13068 Hwy. 37, on the south side of the highway is the River Bend Restaurant and Saloon.

It has a picturesque setting along the river. A colorful sign announces the restaurant and Kootenai Angler Fly Shop. The 3,000 square foot log and timber frame building faces the highway, with the new dining room framed in post, pole, and log woodworks facing the west with a fantastic view of the river. Outside, a post and pole large lean-to structure serves as a stage for Dave’s bands, The Sheldon Mountain Boys, and the Boulder Creek Bands. Blackburn can sure pick a banjo.

There are a few log guest houses that blend in scattered about. The setting is perfect for celebrations, weddings, and events. About a hundred and fifty yards up the highway, on the north side, is land that the Blackburn’s lease to Hoot Owl Farms, run by Rudy and Bonnie Gaber. The restaurant is supplied by them with lots of healthy, fresh produce for the cuisine served inside.

The interior decor as you enter the bar area includes wood plank tables and church pews for seated diners, and a log frame bar. Rustic, but elegant furnishings in the added dining room accent the room with a semi-circle of high windows and awesome viewing while you dine. In the real heart of the restaurant, the kitchen, Chef Jerimiah Walker and the top notch staff prepare excellent meals and scrumptious daily specials. Walker is passion driven and creative. “It’s great to be back doing what we truly enjoy. Providing a happy gathering place while filling their bellies,” he said.

Recently, two gentlemen came out from the New York area to stay at the cabins and dine at the restaurant, while exploring the area with an old high school buddy. Michael and Mac Ciula loved it, and when asked about their stay Michael said, “The Otter cabin turned out to be perfect in every way, including the view of the river and steep hills on its far side.” As far as the restaurant goes, Ciula said, “The River Bend, it too is worthy of recommending. The food is good, the place has a nice feel about it, it’s really nice inside. We got great, friendly service, and best of all we got to walk back to the cabin after desert, watching the sunset shining down on the river.”

Restaurant manager and owner, Tammy Blackburn, said, “We have several weddings this year starting June 6 weekend and once again hosting the Kootenai Highland Gathering July 17 and 18. It’s a pretty cool event. We will also be providing music throughout the season to be announced and some dates our Boulder Creek Band and the Sheldon Mountain Boys will be playing.”

For restaurant reservations call 293-4536, or  email tammyblackburn406@gmail.com. Check the River Bend Restaurant and Saloon’s Facebook website for more information on the scheduled events, including the unique celebration of Scotch-Irish heritage known as the Kootenai Highlanders’ event, which includes ancient sporting events, foods, crafts, and music.

Attached to the restaurant is the Kootenai Angler fly-fishing shop. There, folks can purchase colorful fishing shirts, hats, and caps as well as hand tied flies, rods, and reels. Also, on the counter are copies of Dave Blackburn’s book about his dad’s time serving in World War II, titled, “In the Company of Heroes.”

Almost a half mile up river is the base camp of the Kootenai Angler, a top notch Montana fly-fishing outfit run by Dave Blackburn. This land is also on an historic location as the Big Bend was named by explorer David Thompson back in the early 1800’s as it is where the Kootenai turns from its southward flow 90 degrees at the mouth of the Fisher River to flow prominently westward to the Idaho line. The first name on the Blackburn’s deed was Eugene Gaugen who had a Kootenai wife and settled the property, clearing the land.

Dave Blackburn said, “We were seeing some nice averaged size fish prior to the river raising.” He does some guiding  himself, and his expert and knowledgeable crew includes Joe Cielak, Ron Ridgeway, Jeff Kalwara, Wyatt Crismore, and Taylor Harrison.

Blackburn also does guide work with disabled veteran’s programs. “It’s been great working with the disabled vets, you never know what to expect as far as disabilities we are dealing with. One vet had a hand missing and was able to hold the rod under his arm and strip line in with one hand, holding the line with his teeth.” He added, “Having a dad who was hit four times in World War II, I grew up with a great appreciation of what the combat vet experienced to give us freedom. It’s a great way to give back to these soldiers.”

Blackburn enjoys seeing clients succeed. “That’s what guiding is all about. It’s great watching them improve. I have two brothers who are teachers, and I teach too, just in a different classroom for the last 35 years. ” Blackburn then summed things up when he said, “It has been great to be in such a beautiful place along the river. We raised our kids here, Robin, Daniel, and Ginny. They all grew up in the business, working and learning about how it all comes together.”

To learn more about fly fishing with Kootenai Angler, see their website at goflyfishmontana.com or call 293-7578.

The River Bend Restaurant and Kootenai Angler sign on Hwy. 37. Photo Courtesy of the Blackburn’s.

Library layout changes made

Beginning Tuesday, May 19, library doors will be open. The Library will be reserving 10 until 11a.m. for our high risk patrons and limiting to 10 patrons at a time in the library in order to ensure the health and safety of our community and building. Photo courtesy of Lincoln County Libraries.