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Arlee CDC honors founder, anniversary at upcoming celebration

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ARLEE — The Arlee Community Development Corporation will celebrate its 20th anniversary on Saturday, Sept. 10. 

Founded in 2002 and housed in what was originally the Hangin’ Art Gallery and Café, the CDC will pay homage to those early businesses by offering carrot cake, a specialty item of the original café, and opening a brand new gallery hosted by the Killdeer Artisans Guild and several other local artists. 

“The walls have come back to life,” Executive Director Marie Hirsch commented. “It’s absolutely amazing in here.” 

The building in which the CDC is housed was originally known as the popular regional restaurant the Log Cabin. Gutted by fire and reconstructed as the Log Cabin Bar, that business also burned on July 4, 1987. The building then sat abandoned until it was bought by local Dennis Nault in 1991. 

“Denny had been a part of this community and really wanted the building to serve the community. A big part of this celebration will be honoring him,” Hirsch explained. 

Nault boarded up the front windows where the building had burned, and spent the next several years reconstructing the establishment with his own money and labor. Finished in July of 2003 and opened as the Hangin’ Art Gallery, the building also became home to the Arlee CDC, which Nault had cofounded the year prior. 

“He always allowed the organization to use the building to house the programs that were being developed to really enrich the Jocko Valley community,” Hirsch said. Nault made it happen. In the 20 years since its reconstruction, the building has been used for community meetings and classes, youth camps, writing workshops, festivals and even farmers markets.  

Nault passed away in 2015. His wife Donna took over the businesses until 2019, when she closed shop and put the building up for sale. The Arlee CDC was granted the first right of refusal and in the fall of 2020, the CDC board of directors voted to purchase the building and return it to a gathering place for the community. 

The Arlee CDC, following the example made by Nault and other community members, works to create activities and funding for local undertakings. It was run entirely by unpaid volunteers until the fall of 2019. 

“I was hired as the executive director and my goal here is to help them … I provide access to funding and pathways to develop community leadership and engagement and a membership drive that’ll kick off with this event,” Hirsch explained.

A membership-driven organization, member fees get put toward general funding and grant matching for local programs. Those who sign up for the $10 CDC membership during the anniversary celebration will receive a free tote bag. 

“The Arlee CDC, through 2020, has funded over two-quarters of a million dollars’ worth of projects and programs in the Jocko Valley by community volunteers,” Hirsh stated. “The ability to access private funding for programs and activities here is really crucial.” 

These undertakings have included programs for local youth, building miles of walking and bicycle trails and initiating a strategic planning process in collaboration with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. 

One of their latest and most demanding undertakings arose when the need for food distribution increased during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Approached by a local church for help in the spring of 2020, the CDC began running curbside food distribution. 

“It was a huge effort by a tremendous core of all volunteers,” Hirsh commented. With around 20 people stepping up as volunteers to pack boxes and supply food, the program ran until Sept. 1, 2021. At that time, the building reopened its doors and the CDC made its food pantry available to the public. 

The food pantry is now open Thursdays from 5-7 p.m. and Fridays from 1-3 p.m. After the anniversary celebration, the doors for both the CDC offices and the new art gallery will be open every weekday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

“Just this weekend the Killdeer Artisans came in and began hanging their art,” Hirsh said. “It’s very exciting to have the building, we’ve got a new sign up … this is really an opportunity.”

Along with live music, local art and carrot cake, the celebration will pay special homage to Dennis Nault.

“Denny was kind of larger than life and really was integral in activities here at the CDC,” Hirsh said. “Because he allowed it to use the building, he was involved in a lot of the community activities with the youth, he was here at the café at a regular basis … This event is really about reopening the gathering place that meant so much to Denny and honoring him for the work that he did.”

To get involved with the Arlee CDC through volunteering, fundraising or donating, call the office at 406-726-5550, or email them at: 

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