Rattlesnake

rattlesnake

Part of the fun of living in the Rattlesnake is learning how to adapt to the natural surroundings.

On Mount Jumbo’s west side is the Rattlesnake neighborhood – an intimidating name for one of Missoula’s most tranquil places to live. The area got its name from the Salish word for Rattlesnake, “Kehi-oo-lee.” Rattlesnake Creek once powered the Missoula Sawmill, supporting the livelihoods of early Missoulians. Today, you’ll find plenty of open space in the Rattlesnake as well as traditional neighborhood living. Life here is a wonderfully deceptive mix of wild land adventure and convenient access to the rest of the community. That access goes both ways. Many Missoulians and people from around the world frequent the Rattlesnake throughout the year. It is among the best places in Montana for mountain biking and hiking. Equestrians are also welcome to wander these trails and head further into the backcountry on horseback. Fly-fishing and bird and wildlife watching are also favorite pastimes in this plentiful outdoor paradise. Diversity of landscape is mirrored by the varying groups of people that also inhabit the Rattlesnake. There are many longtime residents who have lived here between 30 and 50 years, but younger families and young professionals are moving in. University students also make up the population, primarily in the Lower Rattlesnake, with its quick access to campus.  Living in this valley is about enjoying the outdoors and those occasional wild residents who live here too.

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“Missoula is probably the only city in the country that you can take a taxicab to a Wilderness Area.” – Rattlesnake resident and backcountry guide, Smoke Elser

rattlesnake-live-hereDivided by ever increasing elevation, the Lower and Upper Rattlesnake have their own distinct personalities. In the “Lower,” you’ll find mill worker cottages and craftsman style homes in the traditional neighborhood grid. Turn-of-the-century architecture and the scenic natural surroundings earned the Lower Rattlesnake a place on the National Register of Historic Places.

In the Upper Rattlesnake, you’ll discover a more rural way of life in what is called the Wildland-Urban Interface. To preserve the balance between the natural ecosystem and the neighborhood, residents work with local, state, and even federal entities like the U.S. Forest Service to make sure the living conditions are optimal for all residents, human and otherwise. In addition, many neighbors have horses and even livestock.

Beyond the backyard, the Upper Rattlesnake boasts backcountry, bordering 32,000+ square acres of the Rattlesnake Recreation Area and Wilderness, a popular hiking, mountain biking, and camping destination. As Wilderness Outfitter’s owner and 50+ year Rattlesnake resident, rattlesnake-live-here-2Smoke Elser says with a smile, “Missoula is probably the only city in the country that you can take a taxicab to a Wilderness Area.” Anglers can cast their lines in Rattlesnake Creek, which runs from the high country all the way into the Clark Fork River, Missoula’s main waterway. At one time the creek was Missoula’s main water supply. Today, its cold, clear waters are a respite for dogs and even swimmers in some still pools during the late summer months. In the winter, although closed to canines to protect the local elk population, the trails are still alive with cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

In the Lower Rattlesnake, hikers can also access the open trails up Waterworks Hill and the Mount Jumbo trail. The landmark “L” on Jumbo was constructed by long ago students of Loyola Sacred Heart High School, located near downtown Missoula. For more wintertime fun, Pineview Park, near Rattlesnake Elementary School, is home to an outdoor ice skating rink, lovingly maintained by the neighborhood.

The Rattlesnake also further reinforces Missoula’s Garden City designation. Below the pine-covered hillsides, sun-dappled meadows make for excellent growing. Ten Spoon Winery makes its home in one such place and produces organic Missoula-made wines with locally flavored names. They also produce much of their own energy by harnessing the power of the sun. The PEAS Farm, which is operated by Garden City Harvest, is an organic farm providing educational opportunities for all Missoulians as well as food for the Missoula Food Bank. Greenough Park is a popular place for dog-walkers, cyclists, and an occasional black bear.

For breakfast, lunch, dinner, or that necessary coffee break, Rattlesnake Gardens, serves as the local grocery, restaurant, and gathering place. Opened in 1998, the Gardens continue to thrive with an annual barbeque that rivals many summer block parties. Other local traditions that may not be as fun, but are certainly necessary, are making sure garbage goes out on garbage day and not before and keeping pet food indoors or in the garage. Rattlesnake black bear populations are manageable as long as there aren’t those human temptations around. This wildness and all its wonder is just part of life here in the Rattlesnake.

The Rattlesnake Neighborhood is filled with unique stories. Inspired by the wild beauty surrounding their homes, neighbors often get creative – sometimes out of necessity to ward off garden-sampling deer and sometimes just for the sheer fun of it. Rattlesnake resident Beth Schenk attracted attention when she built an unusual enclosure for her front yard on Rattlesnake Drive made from stone and recycled wine bottles. Read the full story here.

It’s not always about growing a great vegetable garden in the Rattlesnake. One resident mastered the art of cultivating a breakfast and baking staple and has now made it her business. Heather McKee learned about raising chickens at Garden City Harvest’s PEAS Farm. She recently purchased and transported 130 birds via eggmobile up the Rattlesnake to start her own egg farm. Learn more about how this former AmeriCorps volunteer hatched her business plan here.

The Lower Rattlesnake Neighborhood’s designation on the National Register of Historic Places has made it a wonderful place to walk through. If not simply to admire the variety of architectural styles, it is also an ideal route to take in a breathlessly beautiful Montana day.Read more about the Lower Rattlesnake’s history here.

Many of us remember the various ways we kept up on the comings and goings of our hometowns and neighborhoods. Whether it was through the grapevine, a community group, or the weekly newspaper, we had a resource for information and an outlet to share our thoughts. The LiveMissoula! neighborhood blogs revisit that concept in a new way by providing an open, online destination where neighborhood stories can be posted and shared. To contribute to the discussion, we encourage you to add your comments. If you have an idea for a story, contact the Neighborhood Volunteer Advocate listed under each neighborhood’s Fast Facts pages.