Monday, September 17, 2012

The Fairy Steps

There is a very special place known to generations of Kalispell’s children as the Fairy Steps. This enchanting stairway leads up a very steep cliff from the heavily wooded banks of the Stillwater River. At the top, there is small grassy promontory overlooking the Flathead Valley. This promontory is part of the Charles Conrad Memorial Cemetery. It was on this scenic overlook in the early twentieth century that Alicia Conrad had her husband’s remains placed in the family mausoleum. The mausoleum today sits by itself on this dramatic outcrop, surrounded by dense forest and very steep terrain. Long ago there was a road that ran along the river bank at the base of the cliff.  It was the most easily accessible route for her to visit the remains of her dearly departed husband.


She had the cliff face buttressed with a stone retaining wall and sections of concrete to prevent erosion. The tiny stone steps switchback up the steep incline, and several stone benches along the way allow necessary resting places. Mrs. Conrad would have her coachman drive the carriage to the steps at the base of the cliff so that she could visit the gravesite. Local children have scampered up and down that treacherous stairway for the last hundred years, but adults find the climb challenging. Local legend has it that if you count the steps on the way down and again on the up, you will always come out with different numbers. It’s little wonder. Once you are midway down, you have already lost count. And on the way back up, you are so winded that keeping track of numbers—at least for me—was impossible.

Update: The cemetery has just been listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Here's an article about it.

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