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Ronan visitor center cabin was a historic stage stop

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RONAN –The people running the Mission Mountain Country Visitor Center have figured out where all the cars were coming from on U.S. Highway 93 throughout the summer. 

“They come here from all over the world,” said Roland Sager, center employee. 

Travelers have stopped in to put their names in a book at the visitor center in Ronan and noted that they’ve traveled from places like Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan.

Center employees Roland Sager, Grace Sager, Linda Dale, and Mary Smith split the week so that someone is at the cabin-style center next to Glacier Bank from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day of the week, except Monday, to give visitors a plethora of information including directions, event dates, and places to go.  

The doors open on Memorial Day, and they close for the season on Labor Day. The Ronan Chamber of Commerce provides funding for the center along with grants and community support. Ronan chamber executive director Lana Bartel said a great group of people keeps the center open. 

Grace Sager, Roland’s mom, has worked at the center for the past few years. She can often be found on the porch sitting in one of the chairs during the hotter parts of the day. With 91 years of life experience, she has a lot of local information to share. This year, she believes there has been more summer traffic than usual. “I just love meeting all the different people that come here,” she said. 

The travelers stop in on their way to many different places including Flathead Lake, Glacier National Park, and the Bison Range. 

Roland said people most often ask for directions to the Mission Dam or the St. Ignatius Mission church. They also want to know where to find accommodations and where the best places are to see animals. He tells people that the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge is another good place to stop. 

Roland has maps and brochures and directions to different places including local Montana State Parks at Big Arm and Yellow Bay. “People ask me where they can pitch a tent and we show them the maps with camping sites,” he said.

People also ask about different places in the state and there are plenty of brochures for all of that as well. He also checks the fire reports in the morning to find out if anything has changed during the night to answer questions about the smoke.

“We try to help them out as much as we can,” Roland said.

A Northwest Montana Realtors grant provided funding for the new rocking chairs at the center for people to sit and visit. People can also walk around outside and smell the flowers, or use the bathroom, which does have electricity and running water. They can also park their bikes in a rack made of old farming equipment. 

“We’ve even set up a puzzle a few times for people to put together,” he said.

The 10-foot by 14-foot cabin with the hand-hewn logs and wood floor wasn’t always a visitor’s center. 

“It used to be a stage coach stop in the late 1800s,” Grace said. 

The cabin was built in 1870 and set up across Flathead River on the west side where Sloan Bridge is now located, and it was called the Sloan Stage Stop. 

“The man that ran it would ferry people across the river and sell different things that were in the cabin before the bridge was built,” she said. 

The stop was used for people traveling between Dixon and Polson.

“Can you imagine? They had a couple candles set up in the dark and people would see that and know where to stop,” she said.

The stage stop was eventually closed and the cabin started to fall apart until it was moved out to the Mission Mountain Country Club and repaired.

“They had to re-do the ceiling when they moved it,” she said. “It looks the same except they closed up the place for the potbelly stove. I don’t know where the potbelly stove went.”

The folks at the country club eventually donated the cabin to the Lake County Community Development Center, and moved it to its current location where it was turned into a visitor center. The bank owns the land. Eventually, the cabin was donated to the Ronan Chamber.

 A bathroom was added along with landscaping and a concrete wheelchair-accessible walking platform that looks like real wood. Kicking Horse Job Corps brought in two picnic tables.

“This is a community project,” Grace said. “People are starting to really catch on to the idea of a visitor’s center. I hope it continues to grow.”

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