On the first day of 2007, while many of us nursed hangovers and others made sandwich runs between the finale of the Capital One Bowl and the Rose Bowl kickoff, cars lined up on both sides of West Greenough Drive, from Interstate Highway 90 to Elison Lane, as hundreds of über-engaged Missoulians (and their dogs) streamed up Waterworks Hill to usher in the New Year with a sign of peace.

Last week the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center announced it had entered into an agreement to buy a triangular 4.4-acre slice of land on the face of the hill above I-90. Betsy Mulligan-Dague, the peace center’s executive director, says the intent is to create a peace park on the site later this year, complete with some sort of marker that will be visible throughout much of the city.

It was spring of 1983 when Missoulians first awoke to find a peace sign painted on a 30-foot-by-30-foot microwave reflector atop Waterworks Hill. Qwest, the company that owned the reflector, whitewashed the de facto canvas, but the symbol soon reappeared, launching a long battle between the company and renegade painters. The lively history of the peace sign ended in 2001 when the obsolete reflector was disassembled and its nine panels scattered to garages and backyards throughout the city, following an intense community debate about whether the symbol amounted to vandalism, an uplifting reminder of hope, an insult to veterans or simply a local landmark.

Years later, under a chilly gray sky, more than 200 people gathered on Waterworks Hill and joined hands to create a giant human peace sign in remembrance of the old landmark, and in hopes of inspiring the creation of a successor.

Mulligan-Dague says she has yet to hear any complaints about the idea of a peace park and a symbol on Waterworks’ face, but she fully expects that talk of the idea will rekindle past controversies.

“I think it’s good if there are people out there who have strong feelings about the peace sign, and I hope this helps bring them out and gets them to take part in the discussion,” she says. “Hopefully we’ll come forward with an idea that almost everyone can agree on.”

Srinivas Mondava, a peace center board member, smiled as he helped Mulligan-Dague coordinate the flesh-and-blood peace sign from the center of the circle.

“It’s nice to see so many people up here,” he said, a bit surprised at the turnout. “Maybe 2007 will be the year of peace.”

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