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56 Counties
First Monday of the Month at 6:30pm

Fifty-Six Counties is a radio program hosted by Russell Rowland, author of the book Fifty-Six Counties: A Montana Journey. For the book, Rowland traveled to every county in Montana and interviewed the people there about what’s going on around the state, while also researching the history to find the parallels and patterns.

The radio program is an extension of this conversation, with Rowland interviewing people from all over Montana to find out how Montana has shaped them, and what they’re doing to shape Montana.

  • Liberty County is one of a string of counties along that Hi-Line that has always relied heavily on wheat farming as their main source of income. They still have two grain elevators operating in Chester, but they have also produced some of the most influential creative minds in Montana, including painter Clyde Aspevig, former poet laureate Tami Haaland, and composer/musician Phil Aaberg. But none of these artists still live in Liberty County. So, my guests for this month are two long-time Liberty County residents.
  • Hill County sits right in the middle of what we call the Hi-Line, the long stretch of small towns that are sprinkled along Highway 2 from Glacier Park to North Dakota. Like most of the towns along the Hi-Line, Havre came to be because of the railroad, and because the only passenger line in Montana still runs along the Hi-Line, the railroad remains a viable source of jobs in Hill County. But my guests this month, both of whom left Havre for a time before returning, also give us a glimpse of some of the more surprising activities Havre has to offer.
  • Richland County has gotten more attention in the past ten years than perhaps any other county in Montana due to the Bakken Oil Boom, which brought thousands of people into our state looking for jobs or other opportunities to capitalize on a sudden surge in production in Western North Dakota and Northeastern Montana. The influx of new Montanans brought with it the usual challenges of a boom-and-bust economy as Richland County had to find ways to bolster its infrastructure and give long-time residents a reason to stay as prices and crime rates escalated in the county.
  • Broadwater County is one of many counties in Montana that came into being because of the railroad. And in fact, the county seat, Townsend, is named after Alma Townsend, the wife of the president of the Northern Pacific at the time it came through Montana. But the railroad is long gone from Townsend, so it relies heavily on agriculture to stay relevant.
  • Meagher County is named for the first territorial governor of Montana, Thomas Meagher, who suffered a tragic end when he drowned in the Missouri River near Fort Benton. Meagher’s body was never found, and it remains a mystery whether he was murdered or simply fell from the deck of the steamboat, which added to the legend of a man whose life was already pretty adventurous. White Sulphur Springs was a thriving community until the early 80s, when the railroad left and a sawmill that employed several hundred people shut down. The county still has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the state, but thanks to one enterprising woman, it has also become a popular tourist destination, as well as the site for one of Montana’s most popular annual events, The Red Ants Pants music festival. My guests this month are the founder of Red Ants Pants, Sarah Calhoun, and Barry and Chris Hedrich, the owners of 2 Bassett Brewery, which opened right on Main Street in White Sulphur five years ago.
  • Two thirds of Lake County is made up of the Flathead Reservation, which includes the Confederation of Salish and Kootenai Tribes along with the Flathead tribe. And because this county borders Flathead Lake, the tribes share a responsibility with the state to manage the fish and wildlife as well as the environment for the county. My guests this week are both wildlife biologists who have worked closely with the tribes and the state and federal entities to help maintain a healthy environment in Lake County.
  • Jordan, Montana has the distinction of being the most isolated county seat in the US, being the furthest from any public transportation. Which may account for its strong sense of community. My guests this week have both seen this community support in dramatic ways. Rex Phipps is a rancher who is also the CEO of the Garfield County Bank, but he also serves as the Chairman of the Garfield County Fire Foundation. Briana Dolbear was born and raised on a ranch in Garfield County, and when her husband Owen Murnion was killed unloading a piece of equipment in 2015, leaving her with seven daughters under the age of 16. She experienced the support of small town community like few have.
  • Gallatin County has been cited in several recent national studies as one of the fastest growing communities, as well as one of the most desirable, in the country. Bozeman has transformed from a quiet college and agricultural town to becoming one of the most popular destinations for people who can work anywhere in the country. This new growth has created an interesting challenge as more money pours in, making it harder for lower and middle class families to afford to live in Bozeman.
  • On this month's 56 Counties, host Russell Rowland features Butte-Silver Bow County in conversations with Karen Sullivan, Health Officer for Butte-Silver Bow County, and Steve Gammon, Provost/Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at Montana Tech.
  • Fergus County was one of the pleasant surprises when I was going my tour of Montana for 56 Counties. I had never been to Lewistown before, and was surprised to find a town of nearly 6000 people, with some of the most beautiful sandstone buildings in the state.