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About Toole County




In 2010 there were 5,324 people living in Toole County - a population percent change of 1.1% between 2000 and 2010. There is little diversity within Toole County, with 92% Caucasian, 4.5% American Indian, and 2.4% Latin American origin.


The incorporated city of Shelby, population 3,376, serves as the county seat. Other cities and towns in Toole County include Ethridge, Galata, Kevin, Oilmont, Sunburst, and Sweetgrass. Situated in northern Montana, the Canadian line is Toole County's northern boundary, with the Marias River flowing along a major portion of its southern boundary.

Toole County is made up of 1,915.65 square miles and has a population base of 2.8 persons per square mile.

Industry and Economy

Mining, Agriculture, Utilities, and Transportation and Warehousing are competitively positioned for growth and new business opportunities. These capitalize on the County's geographic location (major rail service, east/west & north/south highways, on Canadian border, access to raw materials) as well as a skilled and or knowledgeable workforce.

In 2009 there were 196 private nonfarm establishments and 499 farms. There were 25.3% of women owned farms and 8.4% American Indian owned farms.

The top private employer in Toole County, employing 165 people, is the Crossroads Correctional Facility, located in Shelby. Opened in September 1999, Crossroads is the first private adult correctional center in the state of Montana. Crossroads is the only adult institution in the Montana Prison System that has achieved both the ACA (American Correctional Association) and NCCHC (National Commission on Correctional Health Care) accreditation. Operated by Corrections Corporation of America, the facility has 564 beds under contract to the State of Montana and 96 beds contracted to the U.S. Marshall Service.

Wind power in Toole County is a growing industry. With a total of 210 megawatts, Glacier Wind Farm, constructed and operated by NaturEner USA in 2009, became the largest wind energy project in Montana to date. 100 of the 140 towers are located within Toole County. The Rim Rock Wind Farm, also built and operated by NaturEner USA, is located approximately 25 miles north of the Glacier Wind Farm. Approximately 90% of the Rim Rock Wind Farm is located in Toole County. Phase One construction was completed in November of 2012, resulting in 189 megawatts of power.

Toole County is still producing both oil and gas after the first discovery 86 years ago. Unlike many oilfields, drilling a well in Toole County is cost efficient; oil, when discovered, is often found in formations only 1,500-1,800 feet under the ground.

Carbon storage, also known as carbon sequestration, is the capture and storage of CO2 gas that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere. The Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership, a $67 million, eight-year project involves permitting, injecting and monitoring one million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into deep porous rock formations, will occur near Shelby, Kevin and Sunburst, all Toole County communities. The project site is located at Kevin Dome, a geologic feature that extends 700 square miles underground and has trapped naturally occurring carbon dioxide (CO2) for millions of years. The overall goal of the project is to demonstrate that CO2 can be stored safely and viably in regional geologic formation. Local Montana companies will be hired for the project permitting, site development, well drilling and operations work.


Healthcare plays a significant role within Toole County providing a critical component to the overall landscape in retaining existing and attracting new businesses. The Toole County Health Department, Marias Medical Center, Marias Healthcare Services, Inc., and Marias Heritage Center, as well as dentists and doctors of optometry, offer the region primary and extended care.

The Toole County Health Department offers immunizations; home visits for pregnant women, postpartum women, and newborns to five year olds to help with breastfeeding, developmental screenings, anticipatory guidance for safety, child rearing and nutrition; tobacco cessation and support; WIC; the Cancer Control Program which offers cancer prevention and screening education to the public, as well as, a screening program that assists with breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer screenings; school screening services; public health emergency planning; communicable disease surveillance and follow up; and education on a variety of health topics.

The Marias Medical Center, located in Shelby, provides primary, long-term, assisted living and care services to residents throughout the county. Marias Medical Center offers a 21 bed critical access hospital with nursery, maternity rooms, and ICU, as well as a 53-bed nursing facility that provides rehabilitation and restorative care. In addition to radiology, surgery and acute care, the Center provides comprehensive inpatient and outpatient medical digital imaging services Marias Medical Center also has an extensive rehabilitation department which includes physical, occupational and speech therapy services.

Marias Heritage Center (MHC) is a 38 apartment retirement and state licensed assisted living facility. Studio, one, and two bedroom apartments are available with all apartments offering a private bathroom and shower. The director is a registered nurse and the facility is staffed around the clock. MHC offers a variety of levels of assistance, including medication management.

Marias Healthcare Services Inc (MHSI) is a Federally Qualified Health Center look alike, providing primary care, obstetrics, geriatrics, pediatric, preventive, dentistry and full scope of medicine for patients. Staffed by five physicians, a dentist, and multiple nursing and support staff, MHSI offers a sliding fee schedule for low income families and accepts all patients regardless of ability to pay. The clinic is a private non-profit corporation owned by the citizens of Toole County. The operations are overseen by a volunteer board of community members.


In 2010 there were a total of 2,336 housing units with a homeownership rate of 66.9%. The median value of owner-occupied housing units in 2009 was $88,900 dollars, with 2.3 persons per households.

The per capita income in 2009 was $19,271 dollars and the median household income was $37,238 dollars in 2009. There were 16.5% of people living below the poverty level in Toole County in 2009.

Recreation and Tourism

The Shelby Chamber of Commerce is active in promoting the region's natural amenities and tourist activities. Among these are boating and fishing around Lake Elwell and the Marias River, golf at the Marias Valley Golf and Country Club, and hiking along the Roadrunner Recreation Trail and through the area's natural sandstone formations at 'Little Jerusalem', west of Sunburst. The Marias River State Park and Wildlife Management Area provides general recreation, hunting and Marias River access for floating.

The colorful account of Toole County and Shelby's history in CD form is available through the Shelby Area Chamber of Commerce for just $10.00. Friends and family far and near will love to relive the coming of the railroad…the buzz of activity leading to the historic fight…the great importance of homesteading and all the colorful highlights that have made Shelby and Toole County what it is today. Accompanying the CD is a map of the points-of-interest along the way and a tour of our Historic Main Street Business District and the adjacent neighborhoods.

The Veterans Memorial Flag flying 100 feet in the air on the west side of Shelby, commemorates the Veterans Memorial Highway (I-15) and the 163rd Infantry Memorial Highway (US Hwy 2). The flag keeps a vigilant watch over our crossroads and represents our community's sacrifice, service and love of country. The smaller poles honor the four branches of the military and the prisoners of war. The Flag Memorial Park is located south of the flag. It contains a steel panel commemorating the Battle of Iwo Jima and a statue of a bald eagle. Commemorative bricks with a veterans name and military branch can be purchased to honor a veteran.

Toole County is also home to the Marias Museum of History and Art, which has collections including artefacts from Native American culture, gold mining, homesteading and agriculture. Shelby houses a community recreation center, which is outfitted for indoor recreation: a kid's game room, 2 racquetball courts, basketball court, 2 work-out rooms, a weight room, and aerobic and personal training classes. Shelby and Sunburst also have seasonal public swimming pools and outdoor wading pools. Shelby has 7 public parks for picnicking and recreation as well as a 5.06 mile recreation trail. Aronow Park includes tennis courts, horseshoe pits and an outdoor volleyball court. The park also offers ice skating in winter months. The Lake Sheloole Park & Campgrounds includes baseball fields and camping sites. Williamson Park, 7 miles south of Shelby has camping sites available with no amenities. Shelby also has a very historic past in hosting the World Heavyweight Championship Fight of 1923.


Toole County is home to three elementary schools and two high schools, providing the students of Toole County with a balanced educational and social foundation to build upon as they grow and mature.


Shelby was selected to receive a 2005 and 2009 EPA Brownfields cleanup grant. The 2005 funding from the Environmental Protection Agency was to address the lead-based paint and asbestos contamination in Historic Shelby High. Remediation has been completed and the City is continuing pursuing funding opportunities for renovation and revitalization of the building for a multi-faceted community learning center. The 2009 funding was awarded for addressing hazardous petroleum substances at the former Shelby Petroleum Refinery east of Shelby. Grant monies were also awarded through the Department of Natural Resources Renewable Resource Development Grant Program for remediation at this site. Work continues to address this site.

9,251 acres of Toole County are currently under a federal Fish and Wildlife Service conservation easement. There is also one open landfill, the Shelby Landfill, a Class II Landfill. There are 71 miles of crude oil pipelines in the county.

Public Safety

The U.S. Border Patrol maintains a large presence in Toole County with stations located in Shelby and Sunburst. The U.S. Border Patrol is responsible for the enforcement of criminal laws and other provisions under the auspices of the Immigration and Nationality Act, along with directing and implementing programs related to the prevention of illegal entry of terrorists and terrorist's weapons of mass destruction into the United States. The U.S. Border Patrol continues its efforts to control Montana's borders by maintaining and expanding a strong enforcement posture, including sufficient flexibility to address dynamic enforcement challenges, which is critical to bringing operational control to our Nation's borders.

The Sweetgrass/Coutts Canadian-U.S. border facility, located on Interstate 15 in north Toole County, was dedicated on September 15, 2004. The unique facility is shared between U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). It is the largest shared facility of its kind on the northern border. This shared port of entry has its roots in the Canada-United States Shared Border Accord. The Accord, signed in 1995, promotes efficiency in operating a shared border and encourages creation of a border that protects the safety of citizens from both countries, while facilitating legitimate travel and trade between them.

CBP and CBSA moved into the 100,000 square-foot shared port in the fall of 2003. The facility includes a three-level main building, housing CBSA and CBP primary inspection lanes and port offices. Separate cargo processing and examination facilities, secondary vehicle inspection buildings, a firing range and armory, gamma x-ray technology, hazmat areas, and outbound inspection booths are located on either side of the border. Lunchroom facilities, locker rooms, exercise room, and conference rooms are shared by both staffs. CBP employees at Sweetgrass reside in Toole, Glacier, and Pondera counties.

The facilities are 24/7 commercial operations, allowing commercial merchandise and passenger traffic to flow around the clock, 365 days a year. According to Fiscal Year 2010 CBP data:

  • Almost 300,000 cars, carrying 597,000 people entered the U.S. through the Sweetgrass Port of Entry between October 1, 2009 and September 30, 2010.
  • 122,000 Commercial trucks arrived, and
  • 300 buses carrying 8400 persons entered during the same time period.

Today, Sweetgrass/Coutts is very different than the original border crossing in 1890. The original port had one building at a railway area and a white line drawn between the two countries. Now, with six lanes going north into Canada and 5 lanes coming south into the U.S., the port has the highest traffic volume in the state of Montana.


Shelby is located at the crossroads of US-2 and Interstate 15 on the CANAMEX corridor, a 1,504-mile corridor that connects Edmonton to Mexico City. Shelby is a hub station for Amtrak's Empire Builder. Regional bus service from the Canadian border to Great Falls and from Shelby to Kalispell is headquartered in Shelby. Toole County is also home to the Burlington Northern/Santa Fe Rail Intermodal Terminal and is the northernmost inland Port Authority serving the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The Port of Northern Montana, located east of Shelby, offers the following services:

  • Immediate access to worldwide Custom Brokerages
  • Booking capabilities for major steamship companies
  • Break-bulk
  • Pick and Pack
  • Consolidation / Distribution
  • Rail Car Transloading
  • 110 Car Shuttle Facility
  • Storage Facilities
  • Lumber Transload
  • Palletized Product Transloading
  • Rail Car Transloading
  • Bulk Rail Car Transloading


Toole County was named for Joseph K. Toole, the first governor of the state of Montana. Created on May 7, 1914, Toole County's territory was taken from parts of Teton and Hill Counties. Toole County boasts a colorful past and a bright future; the following chronology offers a brief glimpse of Toole County up to the date of its formation:

Toole County Chronology

1803  Louisiana Purchase
1805  Maria's River named by Captain Meriwether Lewis
1806  Maria's River explored by Captain Lewis, Reuben and Joseph Field, and George Drewyer
1846  Fort Lewis established-renamed Fort Benton in 1850
1853-1855  Survey for western railroad by General Isaac Stevens
1870  Whoop up Trail - from Fort Benton to Fort McLeod
1882  Soldier Camp on the Marias - from Fort Shaw
1885  Gold Discovered in Sweetgrass Hills
1888  Indians "sold" the Sweetgrass Hills - land opened to white settlers
1889  Montana enters the Union as the 41st State
1890  Narrow Gauge Railroad built from Lethbridge to Great Falls - end of steamboat travel on the Missouri River
1891  Great Northern Railroad completed to the Marias Pass
1895  Gold Butte established - first post office and first school at Gold Butte
1903  May blizzard - many cattle and sheep perished
1908  June flood of the Marias River - destroyed homes and property
1910  Coming of Homesteaders
1914  Toole County formed with Shelby as the county seat


Toole County Statistics

Population: 5,324 (2010)
Land Area: 1,915 square miles
Persons Per Square Mile: 2.8

What's in a Name?

Kevin was named after Thomas Kevin, superintendent of the Alberta Railway & Irrigation Company.

Shelby was named in honor of Peter O. Shelby, general manager of the Montana Central Railway.

In the spring of 1907 a young man named W.G. Davis moved from Alberta, Canada, to his new ranch in Montana located in the shadow of West Butte, one of three small mountains commonly known as the Sweet Grass Hills, the other two being named East Butte and Gold Butte. Early one morning while looking after his flock of sheep, young Davis saw the sun suddenly burst over West Butte spreading myriads of colors over the morning sky. He was so impressed that he named his land "Sunburst Ranch." A few years later Mr. Davis acquired more land and in 1913 together with Bill O’Haire and Albert Goeddertz, neighboring landowners, he helped organize the community and plat a town site, part of which was located on Mr. Davis' "Sunburst Ranch." It was incorporated in 1925 and at the suggestion of Mr. Davis called "Sunburst." This was a sparsely settled and peaceful cattle, sheep and faring country until in 1922 Gordon Campbell, a geologist, discovered oil, which started a boom.

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