By JOHN KIRK VINCENT/Montana State News
Twelve miles outside of Bozeman lies a region known by locals as Gateway. The nickname for the rural suburb Gallatin Gateway may seem like just another abbreviation, but has earned its shortening over the last hundred plus years.
Longtime resident Michelle McReynolds has called the area her home for over 15 years, saying, “People think we’re just out in the boondocks. We’re a community all our own.”
Aside from its countless residences, Gateway is home to its own elementary and middle school, post office, firehouse, a handful of bars and restaurants as well as other local businesses. People often drive right through the area – sometimes stopping for fuel – without realizing the town amenities or its distinct population.
“My husband’s family has lived here for generations. I have two kids and Gateway is a healthy environment—for the most part,” McReynolds said. “School is within walking distance and my boys can enjoy the Montana outdoors without leaving our property.”
McReynolds, 32, has settled into what she calls a “rural-ish lifestyle.” She is frequently running into Bozeman, but doesn’t stray too far from home when she doesn’t need to. “People have pretty much everything they need out here. I would shop at the Exxon if they had produce.” She excuses herself when one of her sons calls complaining about the other.
Jodie Smith, 45, has worked in the same Gateway building for 25 years at what is now known as The Game. The bar and grill took the place of what used to be the Gourmet Gas Station before it relocated and eventually went out of business.
Before it was the Gourmet, the space was used for a small café. Smith has worked at all three businesses and still clocks in Monday through Friday. She smiles and says, “I never want to leave. I live three miles up the road and only go to town for my annual.”
Smith has watched the daily traffic in Gateway long enough to know the majority of people who come through by name, what they drink and even a good chunk of their life stories. When asked to describe the area in a sentence, she remembers a line from an old television show and makes the comparison, “Gateway is a town of hard-drinking locals and confused out-of-towners.” She pours another beer – chuckling – and continues with her various duties as the happy hour crowd begins to clutter the standing room.
Gateway claims to have a population of about 5,000. The maximum capacities of the four bars could never accommodate such a number. Surely even the bar regulars take a night off here and there. McReynolds admits to the occasional drink, but has a different idea of what Gateway is about.
For some locals, Gateway is permanently home. Others claim to simply be “on pause” in the stoplight-free town.
Micah Baker divides his time between working for a private contracting company in Big Sky and spending time with his girlfriend, who is a student at MSU. He rents a cabin in Gateway so he can be “halfway there however you look at it.” The distance is not exactly equal in terms of mileage, but Gateway would be the most rational halfway mark.
Baker, 27, does not frequent any local establishments and is rarely part of the larger Gateway community. He is headed home to build a fire on a seasonally warm winter day. “I’m a homebody. I don’t need the variety of Bozeman or the isolation of living in the woods. I’m comfortable right where I’m at.”
Gateway has been the focus of a few recent local headlines. The historic Gateway Inn was recently closed for the immediate future. Also, the trial of the man accused of stabbing another patron at Stacey’s bar has just gotten under way.
Gallatin Gateway is gradually becoming a small city. Though it may not be widely recognized as fully urbanized at this stage in its history, Gateway is progressive by its own definition. Within the last year, the proposed sewer project passed and is in the early stages of installation. Upon completion, the majority of the town will no longer use the well designed as a source for water.
This advancement may not garner the interest of many, but several Gateway residents consider it a big step for a little town.
“The old ranchers and cowboys hate the expansion,” McReynolds adds cleverly, “but us housewives will finally invite our families to come and visit who before were scared Gateway didn’t have indoor plumbing.”
Gateway is a lot bigger than it seems.
– Edited by Autumn Toennis