Missoulians should have say in South Campus development

golf course

University of Montana golf course sits where the Missoula College campus is proposed

It’s not yet clear what the development of the University of Montana Golf Course would look like if the Montana Legislature passed the bill funding the new facilities. But one thing should be clear: Missoula residents should have a say in how the last remaining open lands in town are developed.

The area has roughly the same acreage the main UM campus does (around 220). What’s being proposed is are up-to-date facilities for Missoula College—formerly the College of Technology—students.

But specific plans for the open land aren’t yet publicly clear. The area—which includes Dornblaser Field—is a prime location for President Royce Engstrom as he seeks to fill gaps left by recent drops in UM enrollment.

There are talks of condominiums built and sold to UM alumni. It’s not clear what amount of the land would be paved over for parking and new roads (though the fairways do resemble the crumbling Maurice and Arthur avenues leading to campus).

What is clear is although the land is being used for golf recreation, there are hundreds of acres that, once developed, can’t be undeveloped. Once pavement is laid, there are no more native plants, or gardens, or cross-country skiing acres. Once developed, the land is gone.

It all becomes part of urban sprawl.

Bozeman has done a decent job managing its open space, but that town is growing quickly as well. If the University wants to keep its constituents happy, it should consider plans from the public to develop the land wisely and maintain the open space for us all.

The school owns the land. That’s not being disputed and nor will it change. But a tiny ASUM Community Garden isn’t enough to show for the potential local farming and gardening that could be harnessed if the land is spared of pavement.

UM itself cherishes the land in its own description of the golf course:

“The University of Montana Golf Course is located one mile south of the University of Montana campus, on one of the last open spaces in the valley. Deer and other wildlife are common on the site, as well as outlying areas reclaimed as Native prairie. During the off-season, the area is a favorite for cross-country skiing, sledding, walking and jogging.”

I’ll be advocating the following and hoping any readers will catch on and spread the conversation until the University hears the message:

1. Maintain a larger community garden for residents to farm their own food

2. Leave open land for dogs and people where possible

3. Utilize newer, greener development procedures to keep land open

4. Use the farming idea to develop a respectable program for Environmental Studies students at UM (currently, they program isn’t offering the best on-hands experience, according to some recent graduates of that program).

If the school can maneuver the land with care, the message about the new campus being for education is all right. If the school develops the land to fill a gap in revenue from its past mistakes by developing new housing units, Missoulians will hopefully speak out and catch onto the ideas in this post.

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Filed under Financial Stories, Golf, Missoula City Council, Missoula Public Affairs, Montana Environment and Resources, Outdoors

What’s going on in the Top Hat?

The Top Hat lounge has changed ownership, apparently now run by the owner of Plonk wine bar in Bozeman (and soon to be Missoula). We stopped by last night during First Friday in Missoula to see what we could gather was going on in the inside.

There is widespread talk that the owner wants to put in a nice kitchen and dining area, while maintaining the rock bar music venue vibe. While that seems a tall order to fill, word is Brandon, the sound guy from the old Garr Top Hat, has been placed on paid leave while the inside of the venue is gutted and renovated.

Brandon said there’s going to be an additional 300 capacity for the venue. The owner has ripped out the bathrooms, and eviscerated the inside of the bar, while there is a plastic sheet covering the original bar. We’ll try to catch up with the owner and get some more on his plans. In the meantime, there is a wide open door allowing gapers to stop by and check out what is going on in there. Take a look for yourself.

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Libertarian vote could decide Senate race in Montana

This article was originally published on PBS NewsHour. Read it there at: http://bitly.com/RreNR2

By Taylor Anderson

If the race for Montana’s U.S. Senate seat goes down to the wire, a fishing tackle manufacturer from Hamilton could play a pivotal role in deciding the winner.

By any measure — money, polls or media coverage — Libertarian Dan Cox trails far behind U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, the Democratic incumbent, and Republican Congressman Denny Rehberg.

During the campaign Cox has polled as high as 8 percent and as low as 1 percent, (some polls don’t even include his name), so it’s hard to peg his support. But any votes he receives on Nov. 6 could sway a too-close-to-call race – and help determine which party controls the U.S. Senate come January.

Whatever happens is fine with him, says Cox, who accuses both major party candidates of undermining the U.S. Constitution.

“The good news is no matter what happens in this election, either one or two of the unconstitutional candidates will be out of the Congress,” Cox says.

Rehberg, Tester and their supporters are projected to spend more than $20 million in a record-breaking Montana campaign. By contrast, the 36-year-old Cox has raised less than $5,000.

His signs appear almost nowhere in the state aside from at least one in the Bitterroot Valley featuring spray-painted letters on a white plywood board leftover from his 2010 run for state legislature.

The Libertarian message

Cox’s message seems simple: When it comes to the federal government, less is more.

“Who out there is thinking to themselves, ‘If the government could just regulate me just a little bit more, I’d be happy’?” he asks. “I don’t think hardly anybody’s thinking like that.”

Cox is the only candidate who wants the U.S. to return to gold standard, and he supports a full audit of the Federal Reserve. He says more Americans could afford health care if there were fewer federal regulations and lower taxes.

He mistrusts both major parties. Democrats helped spend the nation into trillions of dollars of debt, he says, and Republicans aren’t the fiscal hawks they say they are. Republicans may talk repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, but Cox mistrusts a GOP solution too.

“They’re going to swoop in and replace it with what, RomneyCare?” Cox said. “Well, if you’re against the government being involved in health care, why would you trust Republicans?”

For their part, Republicans have been skeptical of Cox and clearly worry that he could shave votes from Rehberg. A Rehberg mailer last featured photos of Rehberg and Libertarian-leaning Congressman Ron Paul over a message calling for an audit of the Federal Reserve.

Cox says earlier in the race he met with Rehberg campaign officials, who asked whether he was getting support from Tester.

“I did have one meeting with Rehberg’s campaign manager where he accused me of, I guess, getting my donations from the Jon Tester campaign, which was completely false,” Cox says.

Meanwhile, Tester’s campaign is working to play Cox’s presence in the race to their advantage. A week before the election, a Tester-friendly group representing hunters and anglers ran a TV spot urging conservatives to vote for Cox instead of Rehberg.

What are the odds?

Experts suspect most Montana voters have made their choice. The number of undecided voters and diehard Libertarians appears to be so small that University of Montana political scientist Jeff Greene calls them the “cookie crumb voters.”

“If (Cox) gets 3 or 4 percent, he will be doing extraordinarily well,” Greene says. “It could decide the election actually if that happens. If he were to get 3 or 4 percent, it would be most likely in my view to come off of Rehberg’s part.”

Because Libertarians tend to identify more closely with Republicans, votes for Cox would come from potential Rehberg voters, Greene says.

“And I would predict, if the Libertarians vote true to their heart, Tester would win the race,” Greene said. “But I don’t think they will.”

He says some conservatives who agree with Cox are likely to make a practical choice for Rehberg to help Republicans gain control of the U.S. Senate.

Senate races in seven states — Montana, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Virginia, North Dakota, Nevada and Indiana — are considered tossups this election.

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Same poles, different stakes

Foresters get ready for Ball months after broke loose at UM

By Taylor W. Anderson

It was a cold and rainy game day morning, and 32 people stood outside the Forestry Building at the University of Montana.

Some in this group of early risers stayed out late the night before. One drank yesterday’s cold coffee from a thermos as someone asked for a gulp. The Carhartt- and Hickory-clad bunch had a job to do, and it wasn’t to win a beauty pageant.

It was the Pole Run, and the loggers had to saw 400 trees from UM’sLubrecht Experimental Forest to build the 96th annual Foresters’ Ball, and a bout of mid-October cold weather wasn’t going to impede the tradition, scheduled for March 22 and 23.

The fame of Foresters’ Ball has made the rankings of Playboy magazine’s list of the wildest college parties. For nearly a century, foresters have worked to put on a raucous ball in celebration of the forestry culture and camaraderie.

Then the headlines hit.

Reports of sexual assault on or near campus came to light in December 2011, and UM entered a period of turmoil.

The school hired former state Supreme Court Justice Diane Barz to conduct an internal investigation on the University’s handling of sexual assault.

Barz submitted her report on Jan. 31, less than a week before last year’s ball. The report detailed, “A risk factor of alcohol has been involved in most reports.”

The high-profile investigation and results created a perfect storm that didn’t miss last year’s Foresters’ Ball.

More than 100 attendees were escorted or turned away because of drunkenness. A woman reported being grabbed on the dance floor. Students drank heavily before the event, as had become a norm among attendees, and the University reacted. Engstrom told the ball committee to change or he’d axe the event.

“If we cannot come to agreement on the plan by the end of spring semester, the ball will not happen next year,” Engstrom wrote in a letter last February.

The group came up with a plan that met Engstrom’s demands to make the ball more educational, family-friendly and promote itself as an alcohol-free event.

“You don’t make it 96 years without being willing to meet change,” said Dylan Brooks, the ball’s current publicity officer.

In early May the group submitted a plan to change the stigma surrounding the event, electing to shorten hours and beef up security. The group will promote an education-oriented, alcohol free event. Engstrom signed off on the event days later. And now the party’s on, with some major adjustments.

Cutting for tradition

The group’s mission on Saturday was fairly simple: cut, carry and pile the wood from Lubrecht forest east of Missoula that is needed to build the logging town within the Auxiliary Gyms in the Adams Center for this year’s ball.

About 97 percent of the trees harvested during Pole Run are dead. There were a few live lodge poles that construction officer Evan Neal said were too sweet to pass up, but a vast majority wear the mark of death echoed throughout the Northwest: a blue ring of fungus within the tree’s core, created and farmed by mountain pine beetles.

The beetles, which killed as much as 40 percent of UM’s forest, burrow inside lodge poles and farm a fungus for other beetles to eat. They then kill the trees by cutting off the supply to nutrients and water.

Saturday’s 32 loggers scattered through the dense groupings of trees on a hill 2,000 feet above the Potomac Valley floor. Larch trees burned a fluorescent gold through the forests so thick in areas that sight was limited to about 20 feet.

Women, who made up about a quarter of the group, wore layers of flannel or other dirty mountain garb, save for a few freshmen. Almost every man capable of growing facial hair kept it unshaven in either a thick or patchy trim.

Half of the students had felled trees before. About 12 Stihl chainsaws were unloaded from pickups that lined the logging road winding around the hill. Cold autumn winds bit ears and fingers while the smell of diesel exhaust, unleaded fuel and two-cycle engine oil swirled in the mid-mountain air.

Sawyers strapped on chaps, and everyone grabbed a helmet and earplugs. Safety first. (Had the thick chaps not been covering their legs, at least two freshmen would have learned the hard way about chainsaw safety.)

Seniors  turned professional woodsmen (and woodswomen) point ed lines for new and learning sawyers to aim falling trees. The sawyers aimed their sights, face cut through a third of the tree and cut the backside above the hold. Lodge poles swayed and cracked, and with the helping hand of a logger, fell to the ground, bouncing with a lumbering thud.

Some of the sawyers cut limbs and counted. Others hauled the 40-foot-plus trees into piles. Three hours into the operation 200 trees were counted.

Five years ago Chris Shubert held an axe and saw with a similar group.

The 38-year-old participated in the 92nd Foresters’ Ball before he quit school and deployed to Iraq.

Shubert, equipped for the Pole Run with a professional-grade 440Stihl with 40-inch saw, enrolled this year in forestry. Last year he watched from his Idaho home as the school became entangled in the sexual assault allegations.

He said that while he thinks the ball was perhaps unfairly roped in with the flood of allegations, the University wasn’t out of line in its reaction after the ball.

“If it’s fair for one it’s gotta be fair for all,” he said.

Shubert is a link in the 96-year-old chain of students and alumni who are deeply attached to the Foresters’ Ball.

“This is a long tradition with the University, and as long as the University of Montana is here, it should be part of it,” he said.

Others say the outlandish behavior at last year’s ball came at a bad time for UM.

“I think a lot of that was, (Engstrom) had a lot on his plate,” construction officer Evan Neal said.

This year’s ball will include increased security from more public safety officers. Fewer than 1,200 tickets will be sold for each night, several hundred fewer than last year. The club will need to pay $13,104 more this year than in previous years due to increased security and gym rental fees.

The ball was historically held in the Schreiber Gym before moving to the larger — and much more expensive — Adams Center last year. The costs will eat into the proceeds, which are split into scholarships given to the students who helped put on the event.

Still, the group remains optimistic.

“We’re pretty good with our money. I think we’ll be fine,” Neal said. “There’ll be money, we’ll be all right. As long as people show up.”


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Fort Night

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The moon heads for Lolo Peak west of Missoula after a windy trip down the Bitterroot River Oct. 20.

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