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As Home Fire Burns, Town Finds Its Voice Tepee Turns Community Center Where Old, Young Gather

As part of a youth program last summer, Clark Fork folks gathered around a fire for food, music and conversation.

It was Greg Flint’s job to tend the fire pit, keep the flames dancing.

“We were sitting around on Saturday nights, and I felt we needed a place to continue to do this,” he said. “A tepee popped into my mind.”

In November, a tepee actually did pop up in the same spot along Clark Fork’s main drag, state Highway 200.

Dubbed “The Lodge,” it is a part-time coffeehouse and, for Flint, a full-time dream. As caretaker and host, he hopes to develop the tepee into a cultural hub for the town and a job for himself.

Resident Jane Fritz, a journalist and teacher, describes Flint as “a very mellow person; he’s like this little leprechaun.”

She says the tepee is great.

“You get kids in there, you get older people. … Sometimes you get people who come in from the bar and just want to talk.”

The Out-of-Bounds Bar is just across the street. Flint laughingly calls this intersection of Main and Highway 200 the cultural crossroads of Clark Fork. It also features Clark Fork Junior-Senior High School and the Chevron station, whose proprietor, Gary Hays, owns the lot that holds the tepee.

Flint’s oldest daughter was a high school senior last year. She inspired his vision of a community center for this town of 450 and nearby Hope.

“She said, ‘Dad, there’s nothing for kids to do’ and I said, ‘Yeah, there’s not much for adults to do, either,”’ Flint recalled. “We had in mind this really big beautiful building that we’d build ourselves, big enough for a dance or a town meeting, with a big fireplace.”

For now, he’s making do with the tepee, which was a donation. He got help from lots of people mending it, sanding its poles, and erecting it. They decorated it with cushions, lanterns and sun-catchers.

The tepee is open when Flint is there. That’s on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and the occasional Wednesday.

This winter he’s kept a fire going inside. That keeps him hopping as he works to vent the smoke properly.

Some days, Flint keeps himself company. Other days, as many as 40 people drop by.

“I probably get more adults than kids,” he said. “We get loggers and truck drivers, yuppies and hippies.”

Tourists stop out of curiosity.

“Sometimes it’s because they see the sign that says ‘Free coffee,”’ said Terry Grimm, a computer-savvy 14-year-old. He shares Flint’s dream of hooking up an Internet connection at the tepee, so millions of people could plug into Clark Fork’s fireside chats.

That would take an electrical connection, which the tepee lacks. Right now Flint is hard-pressed to pay the liability insurance and $208 monthly rent on the property. He’s applied for a grant, and plans to launch a pledge drive.

“If 700 people put in $2 a month, that would cover the Lodge bills and pay me $6 or $7 an hour to keep it open,” he said.

Flint, 50, is a stonemason. The trade has taken a toll on his back. There’s nothing he’d like better than to set aside his tools and manage a community center.

Flint lives in a log home on 10 acres outside of town. His neighbor, Mark Rocha, is another community activist who has broken ground for a youth center to serve eastern Bonner County.

Flint has a broader vision, Rocha said.

“He’d like an art gallery, a place where people can get together and talk. I think it’s a wonderful idea.”

In its tepee form, the idea is a little crazy, too - as Flint himself pointed out. But he was pleased to tell of one visitor who found the setting quite logical. That was Henry SiJohn, an elder in the Coeur d’Alene Indian tribe.

“He liked it here. He liked it a lot,” said Flint. “He called it a medicine lodge.”

In addition to financial support, Flint is hoping for contributions of talent from musicians and storytellers. He thinks Clark Fork has a lot to offer.

“It’s beautiful here,” he said. “There’s all kinds of people. It’s like a microcosm of America.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 color photos Map of area