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'Thousands of trees down': Monarch-Neihart residents continue cleanup following early May storm

Trees toppled near Monarch
Posted at 4:39 PM, May 31, 2024

MONARCH — In central Montana, it has been weeks of cleanup following a mid-May storm that wreaked havoc on the area. Residents are struggling to recover.

The Monarch-Neihart area saw significant damage on May 8 and 9 when heavy, wet snow and microbursts pummeled the area.

"We knew there was a big storm coming,” said Susie Paddock, a Billings resident who owns a cabin near Monarch, on Thursday. "But I don't think we had any idea the magnitude that we were going to get out of it."

Paddock enjoys escaping town and vacationing at her cabin with family.

"We're big skiers. Everybody ski patrols at Showdown. So Showdown is a big piece of our life," Paddock said.

Susie Paddock
Susie Paddock

But after seeing damage from the storm, Paddock is worried about the area she loves dearly.

"My calm son videoed along the road as he went. And he's like, 'You will not believe this. Just hundreds of trees down.' And that's along the roadside," Paddock said. "I think it's going to be interesting to see the backcountry with that much deadfall and how you're going to maneuver that."

Luckily, she and her husband clear their property often or the damage could have been much worse.

"We really keep ours clean right around the cabin," Paddock said. "So as we move behind us up into that timber, we're going to see a lot of deadfall."

A power pole came down on top of their cabin.

Pole on the Paddock cabin
Pole on the Paddock cabin

"NorthWestern Energy has just done a fabulous job of getting out there and getting power lines because so many power lines went down in that storm," said Paddock. "And there's thousands of trees down in the Little Belts right now from Neihart area to Monarch."

Other area homes were destroyed and thousands of trees toppled over, leaving behind a risk of fires and floods.

"We're just very concerned about what's going to happen here,” Katie Boedecker, the owner of Showdown Montana Ski Area in Neihart, told MTN News in
a recent interview.

Katie Boedecker (right) with Tim Sheehy
Katie Boedecker (right) with Tim Sheehy

Boedecker said there are between 50 to 100 year-round residents in the area, many of whom are elderly.

"A lot of people have been able to get out and address how this impacted their property, their private property," said Boedecker. "But we do have some older folks in the area that don't have the resources or the means to deal with it.”

While the roads have since been cleared and power restored to the area after nearly a week without, there’s still much work to be done.

"A lot of cleanup," Paddock said. "I understand from people that have been out and about a little bit that there's just so much deadfall."

Trees toppled near Monarch
Trees toppled near Monarch

Prompting homeowners like Paddock to push for assistance from the U.S. Forest Service to restore the land she loves.

"It really is a beautiful area. We see a lot of information right now about people that are just offering to come and help clean up," said Paddock. "But lots of that's going to be forest service land. And so that's going to be their decision how they want to manage that as they move forward."

To learn more about the storm, click here.