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Looking Back at 2019: Year of Change in Three Forks


January 2, 2020

File Photo

Three Forks Council Member Gene Townsend speaks at the Rails to Trails Event.

It was a year of change for the Three Forks City government which included the appointment and eventual reelection of a new Mayor.

Longtime council member Ed Tharp resigned effective December 31, 2018. In February, the Council voted 4-1 to select Steven Dahl as the new member.

In May, Mayor Steven Hamilton announced he would be resigning from the position effective June 2.

Hamilton was elected to his first term in 2013 and to his current term in 2017. Prior to being elected to his first term, Hamilton had served six years on the Three Forks City Council.

A teacher at Three Forks High School, Hamilton said when he first ran for council and later for Mayor, he was always upfront with the fact his heart was first and foremost with his students and the school, adding for the past 20 years, he has dedicated his life to being the very best science teacher, coach, role model and mentor that he could for his students, celebrating some of their best times and standing by them in their darkest hours.

"In fact, I aspired to participate in city government to help spark a greater interest in our city with our students while helping to ensure that Three Forks was the best possible place for our children to live. I'm amazed at how our students have taken it upon themselves to learn more about how their city operates and to look to participate in ways they found fulfilling," Hamilton said. "As our world changes, the needs of our community and those of our students change, and we need to change with it. After much personal reflection, I find myself at a crossroads with a choice to make. While I find my roles as Mayor and a teacher both challenging and fulfilling, I ultimately have to follow my heart and do what serves my students best going forward.

In June, the governing body voted 4-2 Tuesday night to appoint Sean Gifford to fill the position vacated by Hamilton.

During an introductory speech to the governing body prior to the vote, Gifford said he is married with four children and has lived and worked in Three Forks for nearly a decade. Gifford has served in the United States Army and National Guard and is the owner of V-42 Fitness in Three Forks. He has also served as a Three Forks Police Officer and Three Forks Fire Fighter as well as currently volunteering on the Mason Moore Foundation and Three Forks Ambulance Board. He also volunteers with his daughters weekly at the Headwaters Historical Museum.

Gifford said he is a civil servant and his service never stops.

"I intend to provide it to the City of Three Forks," he said.

In November, Gifford was re-elected as Mayor. He defeated current council member and longtime Mayor Gene Townsend and Carl "Bud" Mohler Jr.

Voters also approved the election of three council members. Incumbents Steve Dahl (348) and Debra Mickelberry (301) votes, and Erin Schattauer (231 votes) were all elected to the governing body.

The City of Three Forks was one of four locations nationwide May 8 to host a live reveal of their preferred cross-country route for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Great American Rail-Trail.

A signature project of the RTC, the Great American Rail-Trail will connect nearly 4,000 miles of rail-trails and other multiuse trails across 12 states and Washington, D.C Along with the May 8 event in Three Forks, other live reveals took place in Washington D.C., Columbus, Ohio, and Cle Elum, Washington.

Kevin Belanger, a trail planner for the Rails to Trails Conservancy said they were very excited to be in Three Forks.

"When we had to pick a location in the Mountain West, we knew Three Forks was the place we had to go," he said. "We love it here, it is great."

Belanger told the audience that the Headwaters Trail System is exceptional and one of the Gateway Trails of the route.

Belanger also lauded the work of longtime Three Forks Mayor and current council member Gene Townsend and his wife Pat Townsend.

"This would not be happening without them and the Headwaters Trails System would not be happening without them," he said.

Discussing the full route of the trail, Belanger said the project has been a dream of the conservancy for thirty years and when they learned it was 52 percent complete it was time to really invest in the project.

"A trail across Montana is a reality, and inevitably, and a necessity," Belanger said.

He also thanked the Gallatin Valley Land Trust for co-hosting the event that took place at the John Q. Adams Milwaukee Railroad Park.

Townsend said being chosen to host the event was a great honor for the Headwaters Trails System and the City of Three Forks.

Townsend also feels that because Three Forks was founded by the Milwaukee Railroad and has a rich rail history, it is fitting "our town" will be part of the trail.

Members of the Boilermakers Local D-239 made a symbolic return to the picket line in Three Forks in 2019.

The return recognized the one-year anniversary of the August 2, 2018 lockout date. A total of 35 union were locked out of the Imerys Talc Plant from August 2 to October 31, 2018. The workers were locked out after refusing a contract they rejected after concerns about pensions, retirement, health care, and job security.

Montana AFL-CIO President and Local D-239 President Randy Tocci said he is not carrying a grudge following the lockout, but the union members should never forget.

Mayor Sean Gifford talks with City Clerk Crystal Turner shortly after being sworn in as Mayor. File photo

"It can happen again, maybe not here, it may be somewhere else, and we need to go support them. We don't want to forget about this, because if we forget about it, we could get lazy and it could happen again and we don't need that," Tocci said.

Since their return nine months ago, he said they have worked as efficiently as they could and tried to change the direction management has been leading the plant.

In November, Gallatin County voters rejected last week a proposed $59 million bond to replace the current Law and Justice Center.

In results from the Gallatin County Elections Office, the bond was defeated by a vote of 14,865 (55.02 percent) to 12,150 (44.98 percent). The vote in Three Forks showed 320 against and 207 for the proposed center.

The new county facility would have been home to the Gallatin County Sheriff's Office, Victim Services, Justice Court, District Court, Youth Court, County Attorney's Office, records and the Clerk of District Court's Office.


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