Another trip around the sun, another year documented through the lenses of Independent photographers.
Considering the scope of traumas that Montana has endured over the past half-decade, 2004 pales in comparison. Our nation experienced no massive terrorist attack (’01); the Rainbow Family of Living Light didn’t set up camp near town (’00 and ’01); the Hells Angels and their multi-agencied governmental shadows didn’t practice urban war games in the Garden City’s downtown (’00); no political candidates were dragged tastelessly through their pasts (Mike Taylor, ’02); and massive forest fires didn’t clog the air holes of Montanans for weeks on end (’00 and ’03.)
But that doesn’t mean it’s been a year of boredom. In the past 366 days, Montana elected its first Democratic governor in two decades, a much-anticipated minor league baseball stadium finally opened and Montana became the only state to allow for both legal hemp production and the use of marijuana by people suffering from certain illnesses (both are still illegal federally, though).
And while we hope it’s not true, it’s been said that those who don’t know their past are bound to repeat it. So here’s a look back at some our more photographically memorable stories of 2004. See you next year.
1st photo: Billy LeMond, an inmate at the Corrections Corporation of America’s “Crossroads” prison near Shelby, speaks to the Independent under the watchful eye of warden Jim MacDonald. Having served 14 years for deliberate homicide, LeMond has three years remaining in his sentence. Montana Corrections is asking for a $12 million budget increase to expand the state’s only for-profit prison. But private prison critics, like Montana ACLU’s Scott Crichton, object: “There should be no economic benefit considerations in the calculus of our prison crisis,” he says. “It’s complicated enough without inserting a profit motive.” Mike Keefe-Feldman explored the issue for “Private Prison Paradox,” May 20.
2nd photo: Fancy the taste of a 40-year-old saltine cracker? The discovery of a neglected fallout shelter in the basement of the new Dana Gallery turned up survival crackers, rusty barrels of drinking water and a few dozen emergency toilet setups—and generated Andy Smetanka’s July 22 cover story about the history of nuclear preparedness in Missoula.
3rd photo: Sixteen years after Montana last elected a Democrat governor, Montana voters chose Whitefish farmer Brian Schweitzer over longtime politico Bob Brown. Schweitzer, who refused Political Action Committee money during his campaign, says, “No party has their finger on me, and obviously no lobbyist does.” Mike Keefe-Feldman followed the candidate for his Oct. 28 profile.
4th photo: The Missoula Fire Department burns “about a house a year” in preparation for real-world structure fires, and June’s burn of this house behind the Good Food Store provided “invaluable training” for more than 30 of Missoula’s finest. Chad Harder caught the shot in June.
1st photo: At the 106th Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ Annual Arlee Fourth of July Celebration, 11-year-old Shanelle Parker welcomed the crowd—a mix of tourists and tribes from Washington to Canada—as part of her duties as Miss Salish Pend d’Oreille Junior Princess. More than 400 dancers from across the Northwest competed in 25 dance categories over the weekend. Robin Troy and Chad Harder took in the scene for the July 8 issue.
2nd photo: Gary Delp fills fuel canisters before loading them into his biodiesel-fueled Dodge. Many are switching to the cleaner-burning fuel, including Glacier National Park’s fleet vehicles. Missoula’s two Cenex stores are filling the need, offering a 20 percent vegetable fuel that increases engine life, reduces emissions and fights terrorism, too. Chad Harder got the lowdown for our June 17 issue.
3rd photo: Montana’s ski industry has proven volatile lately, with the closure of Marshall Mountain, the opening of Moonlight Basin and, most recently, a proposal to build what developers are calling a “world class” resort on Lolo Peak. But while the challenges of managing a ski area in Montana amid a changing climate are likely to persist, backcountry skiers will likely continue to enjoy a nine-plus month ski season—if they’re willing to hike into Montana’s high peaks, like the Mission Mountains (above).
4th photo: Disc golfing has ballooned nationally and locally, bringing an entirely new user group into the semi-wild Blue Mountain and Pattee Canyon courses. A Forest Service official with 27 years at the agency calls the sport “by far the biggest recreational use of the district, bar none.” Chad Harder explored the ground rules in an April 29 feature.
1st photo: “Film school can teach you a lot about how to make movies,” says Bitterroot filmmaker John D. Nilles, who made his debut feature, LITTLE, for around $3,500. “But really, the only way to learn is to actually make them.” Andy Smetanka profiled the filmmaker in our Sept. 16 issue.
2nd photo: Montanans overwhelmingly approved via ballot initiative the legalization of marijuana for medical use. For Robin Prosser, diagnosed with an immunosuppressive disorder 20 years ago, legalization should have been good news, but application fees are cost prohibitive. The application “is sitting on my kitchen table,” Prosser says. But “I can’t sign a check for $200.” Chad Harder took the portrait in September.
3rd photo: Montanans passed a vague constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to hunt, at least two people were killed in hunting-related accidents, and Missoula Police Department firearms instructor Ed McLean accidentally shot officer Ken Wickman, prompting a lawsuit that will ultimately be paid for by taxpayers. Despite these and other incidents, shooting deaths in Montana have declined significantly over the decades. Kate Medley captured this image for our Best of Missoula issue.
4th photo: Racers head across the Higgins Avenue bridge during the 32nd annual Riverbank Run on April 24. Nearly 3,000 runners participated in the race.