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Toole County Montana

Toole County’s northern border is shared with the province of Alberta, Canada and parts of the southern border reach to the Marias River. The county was named after Joseph Toole, the first and fourth governor of Montana. Communities in the county include Devon, Ethridge, Shelby, Dunkirk, Kevin, Galata, Oilmont, Sunburst and Sweetgrass. Shelby is the county seat and the largest community in Toole County. With a county population of 5,324 and 1,915 square miles there are 2.8 people per square mile.

Shelby sits at the crossroads of Interstate 15 and US Hwy 2. There is major freight and passenger (Amtrak) rail service east and west and an excellent north-south highway route. This geographic location has helped the county capitalize on a broad variety of industry including agriculture, utilities, energy exploration, transportation and warehousing. Two wind farms have been built in Toole County recently. The Glacier Wind Farm has a total of 140 towers with 100 located in Toole County. The Rim Rock Wind Farm near Kevin has 126 wind towers. Oil and gas exploration is evident with pumping wells seen as you drive throughout the area.

Toole County sits at the top of Montana’s Golden Triangle, named for the high quality grain crops grown in the area. The prominent Sweetgrass Hills to the east are actually volcanic mountains and, at 7,000 feet, the “Hills” are the highest isolated peaks in the United States. East Butte, Gold Butte (named for previous gold mining) and West Butte have remnants of tipi rings, multi-room caves and buffalo jumps.

A 24-hour port of entry to Canada is located at Sweetgrass. The community has a duty free shop, a gas station and convenience store which see a steady stream of travelers year round. Noted geographic features west of Sweetgrass are called the Jerusalem Rocks. Rolling farm land becomes rocky with hoo-doo like features creating a unique terrain. This area is primarily private land but a county road allows visitors an opportunity to view the Jerusalem Rocks.

The community of Sunburst boasts a European Antique Store and two bars, one located in a former Lutheran church. On the eastern edge of the county is Dunkirk with the Frontier Bar & Supper Club, widely acclaimed for their prime rib, steaks and pasta dishes.

Shelby is the major service area for the county. A charming Main Street dotted with retro neon signs is lined with locally owned businesses. The Road Runner Recreational Trail, accessed from the northern edge of town, offers plenty of rolling hills for walkers and joggers. About five miles south of Shelby is the 18-hole Marias Valley Golf Course with challenging bent grass greens and views of the Marias River. An event held over 90 years ago still lives on in Shelby today. On July 4, 1923 the town was the site of the Dempsey-Gibbons heavyweight championship fight. Community promoters went broke when anticipated crowds never materialized. Several area businesses and the Marias Museum of History and Art showcase the epic boxing match. Construction of a community park named Champions Park is underway and will feature statues of the boxers and kiosks detailing area history.

Recreation in Toole County includes boating and fishing, primarily at Lake Elwell/Tiber Dam and the Marias River. Big game hunters are lured by plentiful populations of upland game birds, mule and white-tail deer and antelope. The Sweetgrass Hills area also supports a substantial elk herd. Birdwatchers enjoy spectacular raptor viewing near the Kevin rims and other birding at Lake Elwell. Campgrounds with a variety of amenities offer convenient access to area recreation.

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County Facts

  • Estimated Population: 5,324
  • Land Area in Square Miles: 1,915.65
  • Persons Per Square Mile: 2.8