Local gardeners beautify Libby through hardworking volunteerism

Every morning Elizabeth Story drives down to Depot park at the end of the Gut, with about twenty empty plastic milk jugs in the trunk of her car. In the sweet summer morning shade, she fills them with water from the hose there, water supplied by the city of Libby, loads the full jugs back into her trunk and drives over to the traffic island at Bowen Hill and hwy 2. What was, last year an empty patch of dirt with a couple of hardy junipers, is now filled with donated iris  and daylily bulbs,  flowering bushes, volunteer oxeye daisies, and handpicked pieces of wood and stone. Story waters these brave recruits with the gallon milk jugs, packs them back in her trunk and begins the rest of her day, It’s probably still before 8am.

Not being an experienced gardener, Story is quick to thank all the folks who have helped her beautify a small patch of Libby.. The topsoil was donated by the Avid gardeners, mulch and plants by Alan Olsen and Antler Tree nursery. Elizabeth is sponsored by the Libby Area Business Association (LABA), and Gayle Burger and LABA members, Curves, Mindy bower, Libby Floral, and Ace hardware, pitched in to get the area ready to plant.  Olsen gave her some pointers about deer resistant plants. To deter them, Story lovingly covers the leaves and flowers with her own “Apples of fire” hot sauce. She says it seems to work quite well.

Some may have forgotten that the ground around the late Todd Berget’s magnificent flying eagle, on Hwy 2, was bare ground just a few years ago. Newly formed gardening club, the Avid Gardeners, needed a project. Organizer Cathy Yearout recalls ,” The club was looking for a community project we could learn from. We all noticed that people were always stopping to take pictures at Todd’s eagle, and we thought we could make it look better.” And they did, with the help of Lincoln County and Libby city parks departments, the transformation began. “The EPA had already pulled out soil and the  big  evergreens”, she continued. “The City brought rocks, and the County brought piles of mulch, which they dumped in a big pile on the street. Club members showed up to spread it out.” Since the club had no money, Yearout and her fellow avid gardeners divided the plot up into  sections and sought out community sponsorships. “ We have about 5000 sponsors now,” Yearout  said. Some of the major ones have plaques at the site, many are businesses  like Manahan’s furniture, Ace, Rosauers Etc., and many are “In memory of” loved ones like Robert and Vickie Olsen, and Clarence and Helen Miller. A watering system was put in with battery powered sprinklers on a timer. The local boy scout troop came and laid a sweet slate border around all the beds.

Now, the space is beautifully landscaped with a wide variety of trees, perennial shrubs and flowering bulbs. “We  wanted a variety of colors and shapes, including many shades of green” yearout said. “ of course, we were limited to deer resistant plants” There are Spiraea, Barberry, day Lilly, iris and lavender, as well as fall crocus and over 250 daffodil bulbs.

The Avid Gardeners have since been asked to do  many projects, including the entrance of J Neils County Park. Its a lot of work and, the day the Montanian visited, club members Toni Prestridge, Crystal Light, Susan Castenada , and Laurie Boehler -Walsh had joined Yearout to weed and prune. Kelsey Evans was there with her boys, Harmon and Mikey. A labor of love, the pot has become simply gorgeous.

Elizabeth Story. Photo by Moira Blazi, The Montanian

Libby Job Service Center adapts, and offers helpful employment services

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The downstairs office on Mineral Avenue is totally setup outside the office to help folks during these stressful times. The ladies have professionally, and courteously organized job descriptions in alphabetical order, with application forms available and a completed applications box. There are career guides, Montana Works job listings, employee rights, and COVID-19 help links. As of recent, there were also Census Taker jobs available. The setup is complete with a sanitizing station, and business cards that include the phone number at 293-6282, and their email at LibbyJSC@mt.gov.

In speaking with Johnette Watkins , she told The Montanian, “This was a team effort involving the three of us who have remained working at the office. We also have two staff still working remotely. Our resources (job lists, applications, ect.) were made available in the public foyer when the state office closures began on March 23.” When asked how the public has responded to this new setup, Watkins added, “The public seems to be very appreciative of having all our resources available in a large, well ventilated public space. They also appreciate that we are available to answer their questions by phone, email, (or briefly in person, while observing social distancing guidelines). We also continue to operate several federal and state training programs. On the Job Training is also widely used in our area.” In summary, Watkins said, “Our Job Seeking activity has definitely increased recently, although a good number of positions are still available. We do currently have a large number of good jobs available in Lincoln County.” And that folks, is always good news.

By Brian Baxter, The Montanian