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Elkhorn, Montana: Not a ghost town, but a window to a resilient past and present

Elkhorn, Montana
Bruce Bell speaks with MTN's Geneva Zoltek
Elkhorn State Park
Posted at 5:00 AM, Oct 12, 2023

ELKHORN — Elkhorn is an old mining town, just up the road from Boulder, and it's home to Montana’s smallest state park.

At less than an acre in size, the park encompasses two historic buildings that have been weathered with time.

“If you get on the internet and just search Elkhorn, Montana you’ll find hundreds if not thousands of pictures of it,” Bruce Bell, a landowner in Elkhorn, said of the iconic buildings still standing.

Elkhorn, Montana

The park sits in the middle of Elkhorn which is a 140-year-old town that’s still home to several remaining families. Some still live there full-time.

“The only thing Fish, Wildlife and Parks owns is the building we're standing in and the one next to us. We want people to know that it is an old mining camp, it's not, you know, a ghost town where you can wander in and out. It's private ground,” Bell explained.

Bell is a member of the Elkhorn Landowner Protective Association, a small group with deep ties to the area that’s working to preserve what’s still left.

“It's a lot of people that still own the property from their ancestors,” Bell said, “my great-grandfather actually came out of Canada and came west because of the mining. He came to Elkhorn in about 1888 and his primary business was a livery barn.”

Bell and others have conducted extensive research to piece together the town’s history. With the help of a grant, twenty informational signs are in the process of installation along Main Street.

Bruce Bell speaks with MTN's Geneva Zoltek
Bruce Bell's Elkhorn roots go back four generations. He's working with others to preserve the stories of the old mining town and helping install informational signs along Main Street for tourists.

“Each family has probably their own history of the place and stories that they pass down and we’ve tried to incorporate those. We’re using some of those old pictures and how it looked all through the years all the way back to 1886, I think is the oldest picture we have,” Bell said.

The intent of the new addition to the town is to give visitors a taste of Elkhorn’s resilient past without encroaching on its present residents.

Mark Filonczuk, FWP Recreation Manager for the site, told MTN News the signs lend a huge value to park visitors.

“It’s an amazing place to come, [it’s] completely different in the sense that it is an active mining town, still and has just a tremendous amount of history to it and gets visitors from around the world,” Filonczuk said.

While the boom-and-bust mining days might be over in the Treasure State, if you visit Elkhorn you can still find silver in the sagebrush, gold in the autumn leaves, and a window to Montana’s history.

“The people that lived in this town at 7,000 feet in the winter and still mined, they were pretty darn tough and I think that's something we probably don't admit as much,” Bell said, "that's why you want to come here. For those people that haven't been to a place like this, it's good for them to come and see what it was like. For us that still have buildings and families up here, it's also tied into where we're at now. And it's tied into what this is gonna look like in the future.”

Elkhorn State Park
Elkhorn State Park allows visitors to step inside two historic buildings.