With less than a month on the job, Michelle Nowling is already deep into the local history that is expertly preserved and presented at the Ravalli County Museum. The former Ravalli County Courthouse has been a museum since the construction of the current courthouse just to the east of the building. And the collections have grown substantially since the days of the first director Erma Owings.

Nowling is Montana native, growing up in Philipsburg and attending Montana State University in Bozeman. She picked up a graduate degree in Museum Studies in Virginia, where she also dug deep into Civil War history. Upon arriving in Hamilton, she started an intense study of the valley's history. When we talked this week, she was looking at Nez Perce history, getting ready for a Native American exhibit that will be coming this year.

She's amazed at the large collections of all sorts of items that the museum has catalogued. And she want to show more of it to the public. As to the valley's past, she said, "It's so varied. There's so many different types of stories to tell."

One of those subjects is Glacial Lake Missoula, when the valley was mostly submerged in a huge ice age lake. An outdoor exhibit has been in place since last summer, and is only part of the display. Upstairs, in the main display hall, the explanatory panels, maps and a few more boulders will be viewed by visitors...which will be happening now.

The Ravalli County Museum is having a "soft" opening Friday, April 30, when, as Michelle says, they'll simply open the doors and put up the "Open" sign. There is still some work to be done on some of the display areas, and this summer, when that work is done, a more formal opening is planned.

Of course, the kids of the community already have been visiting with the Saturday activity sessions from 10 a.m. to 12 noon. This Saturday will be "Egg Carton Planters," and it's also the first Hamilton's Farmers Market, which surrounds the museum. The May 1st Farmers Market on Bedford and South 2nd and South 3rd Streets will open at about 9:30 a.m. And, coming in June, Bitterroot Day is coming back this year!

Bitterroot Day poster at Ravalli County Museum. (KLYQ photo, Townsquare Media)

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