2002: the year in photos 

Every picture tells a story, don’t it?

It’s not often we say this, but here at the tail end of another year, words fail us. When that happens, we look to the photos for illumination, for perspective, and for the elusive details that are worth, as they say, a thousand inky scribblings.

There’s been plenty to illuminate over the past 12 months, from the Hindenberg-esque conflagration that was Senate-hopeful Mike Taylor’s aborted campaign to the never-know-if-you-don’t-go-for-it exploits of Olympic freestylist Eric Bergoust, from the grasshopper infestations of summer to the deadly avalanches of winter. So without further ado, we present the year in photos, as seen through the lenses of Independent photographers.

Professional bicyclist Levi Leipheimer started his cycling career in Butte and took it all the way to the Tour de France last summer. Leipheimer, who is leader of the Dutch team Rabobank, finished eighth after racing 2,028 miles in 21 days. Leipheimer never led the pack of cyclists, but Rabobank was impressed with his potential. At the end of the season, they offered him a contract for another year and promised to build a stronger team beneath him.

A tale of two Taylors indeed. When Democrats unveiled their masterpiece—an attack ad on Taylor featuring footage from his ’80s Beauty Corner show with that flavorful boom-chick-a-boom soundtrack—it sent ripples across the country, popping up on talk shows and reaching the eyes and ears of campaign managers everywhere. Taylor said that the choice of footage—which showed a benign, gentle-voiced Taylor explaining to an audience how men can reduce crow’s feet around the eyes—made him look gay, and quit the race only to jump back in and still lose handily.

A moonlight bicycle ride on Glacier National Park’s Going to the Sun Road.

vOn Jan. 26, ten snowmobilers were highmarking the steep and deep snow on Wishard Ridge, a favorite locale for backcountry snowmobilers, skiers and snowboarders. Unaware of a highly unstable layer buried deep in the snowpack, one of the sleds triggered an avalanche, burying and killing four of the men in as much as 20 feet of snow. The accident marks one of Montana’s deadliest backcountry mishaps to date.

Keep the dam or lose it. It’s a toss up. After drawing down the reservoir to analyze arsenic-laden sediments last summer, federal officials decided in December not to favor either plan. Environmentalists say the only sure way to deal with the problem—arsenic and other metals threaten both the fishery and the aquifer downstream—is removing the dam and cleaning up the sediments. ARCO, which owns the dam, and the ARCO-funded Bonner Development Group would prefer it stay in place with structural improvements.

As Missoula’s single most obvious source of air pollution, the Smurfit-Stone Container pulp and paper mill west of town remains a focal point for environmental activism. This fall, volunteers organized by Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers started patrolling downtown alleys to remove plastic from cardboard set aside for recycling that would otherwise end up being burned at the mill. The volunteers intend to reduce air pollution—burning plastic creates dioxin and Smurfit-Stone Container is allowed to burn up to two tons of plastic each day—and keep us thinking about ways to protect our airshed.

A lawsuit brought by Nancy Siegel, Adrianne Neff, Carla Grayson and Carol Snetsinger (below, left to right) to end discrimination against same-sex partners in the university system took an abrupt turn when two of the plaintiffs had their house gutted by fire. Nearly 1,000 people showed up at a service the next day to show support for all victims of hate crimes. Amid accusations of crooked reporting, Spider McKnight (left) and the quickly-formed group Queer Action blasted Missoulian publisher Mike McInally at a town meeting, calling the daily paper’s reporting “institutionally biased.”

It’s been a brutal year for Montana’s first female governor. Two years into Judy Martz’ first—and likely final—term, members of her own party are airing her failures to the public. Meanwhile, the same people who elected her are crying for her to step down from the lap of industry—and the governor’s office—before Montana, and Montanans, suffer any further.

Cary Monaco, father of a Hamilton High School freshman and pastor at Big Sky Baptist Church, asked teachers to reconsider assigning Maya Angelou’s memoir I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings after reading excerpts from a rape scene on the Internet. Monaco said he would next challenge Fools Crow by local author James Welch, which also appears on a hit list maintained by watchdog parents, when it’s assigned to his daughter.

The smoke is clearing, and it’s been a ripper of a year for cannabis. Missoulian Robin Prosser waged a 60-day hunger strike to protest her inability to secure a legal prescription for the medicinal plant. Local businesses using highly-nutritive and non-stoney hemp in food and beer have faced threats from the DEA. And more than 600 people took to the streets of Missoula to encourage law enforcement to employ a more sensible approach to Americans smoking the herb. What’s in store for 2003? Canada’s top officials are saying they plan to legalize the ganja bush by April. Stay tuned on this one…

A gold medalist at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, Missoula’s aerial freestylist Eric Bergoust, pictured with his Nagano medal, went bigger than anyone else at the 2002 games in Salt Lake City. While he failed to medal when he botched the landing, he was attempting a jump so huge that it had never before been landed—by anyone—in competition. Insider sources say that he’s training hard for 2006, after which he may be looking for a more, well, grounded career.

In June the future of Montana’s Democratic Party looked troublesome—hey, it don’t look so hot right now—but since Dan Laidman’s cover story on the party, it’s made progress. Democrats gained ground in both the House and Senate, picking up seven GOP seats in November, shrinking the Republican edge in the House from 57-42 (with one Independent) to 53-47, and the GOP majority in the Senate from 31-19 to 29-21. And Steve Kelly, the little-candidate-who-tried, garnered a respectable 34 percent of the vote and beat U.S. Rep. Rehberg in four counties: Big Horn, Deer Lodge, Glacier and Silver Bow. To paraphrase The Clash… “They’ve been beat up, they’ve been thrown up, but they’re not down, no, they’re not down!”

One of Missoula’s oldest landmarks got a makeover this year. Since 1949, the murals painted by Brother Joseph Carignano at the turn of the century in the historic St. Francis Xavier Church (constructed 1891-92) have shown through a lattice of dull brown paint added later as a cost-saving maintenance measure. The multiple curvatures of the vault posed a formidable drafting challenge, but local painters It’s All By Design’s efforts would likely have thrilled the good Brother himself.

Thousands showed up to remember on the anniversary of 9-11-01, and hundreds more marched—almost weekly—through the streets of the Garden City to discourage the American war machine from plowing through another developing nation.

Grasshoppers ravaged portions of Montana during the summer after ideal growing conditions in June and July. First, cool, wet weather gave the insects a jumpstart in life and then hot, dry weather kept at bay a parasite which normally keeps their population in check. While most farmers and ranchers used chemicals to control the pests, organic producers were left with low-tech but effective options like cheese-cloth nets draped over valuable crops, and flocks of hungry chickens.

Over three years ago, U.S. attorneys general negotiated a landmark settlement with the tobacco industry. The deal—a staggering $246 billion—gave Montana a windfall of $832 million, or $30 million annually for 25 years, and in November of 2000, Montana voters approved the creation of a Tobacco Trust Fund to help pay for education, prevention, and tobacco-related health costs. Gov. Martz then recommended gutting the program by 86%, which would leave Montana amongst the least aggressive smoking prevention states in the country. But in the last election, voters approved Initiative 146, earmarking an annual payment of $9.3 million to prevention and cessation programs.

People from many nations descended on West Yellowstone in 2002 to join the Buffalo Field Campaign’s attempt to stop federal and state authorities from slaughtering our nation’s last wild buffalo. Killing more than 200 buffalo last year for wandering outside of Yellowstone National Park, authorities are hinting that this year that number could increase five-fold. The reason, say livestock managers, is to prevent Montana’s sacred cows from becoming re-infected with brucellosis—a disease transferred to bison from cattle long ago.

Rangers in Yellowstone Park donned respirators and other protective gear this winter to protect themselves from what OSHA deems unacceptably high levels of noise and exhaust from snowmobiles. In November, President Bush reversed a Clinton-era directive that would have banned the activity by next season and called instead for limits on the number of park visitors each day and for cleaner, quieter machines. A coalition of environmental groups sued in December, saying that snowmobiles still pollute the park and harass wildlife under Bush’s plan.

From the beginning of the cross country season to the end, Zoe Nelson was ahead of the pack. The Flathead County High School sophomore ran the fastest time in the nation in September and won her second state championship in October. It was enough to make anyone breathless, but Nelson wasn’t done yet. In mid-December, she traveled to southern California for the national high school championship and won there as well.

For Montana’s ski areas, 2002 was a year of expansion, with areas like Lost Trail, Lookout Pass and Discovery Basin all increasing their terrain—and ticket prices.

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