MISSOULA — Concrete road barriers along Big Flat Road are becoming a favorite place for graffiti vandals to practice their technique, so the county wants them removed.
On Monday, Missoula County Commissioners met with representatives of the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to find a solution for vandalism occurring on Big Flat Road.
Recently, vandals have been spray painting obscenities on concrete “New Jersey” barriers that line both sides of the road near a piece of state land along the Clark Fork River. Locals have reported also seeing swastikas on the barriers, but county employees saw none on a reconnaissance trip early Monday.
Commissioner Josh Slotnik said the barriers were put in place to keep mainly motorcycle riders from damaging the restoration work – dirt grading and grass seeding – that covered the former county gravel pit.
“Now apparently, a young artist-in-training went up there and put some really horrible symbols on the barriers,” Slotnik said. “The ground has been restored and no longer needs protection. So we’re interested in making these jersey barriers in the near term not look like a billboard for hate and in the long term, getting them out of the way.”
Bob Storer, DNRC Trust Lands Program manager, said the area has always had issues. Since the mid-‘80s, the area has suffered from illegal garbage-dumping, and some people haven’t been able to resist shooting across the river from that point of the road. Residents on the north side have found slugs in their houses.
Because motorcycles often venture off the road, the DNRC installed the barriers to keep people from riding up the hillsides.
“I’m really concerned if you remove them, we’ll be back in the situation we had before,” Storer said.
Slotnik asked if the DNRC would clean the graffiti off their barriers if they couldn’t be removed.
Commissioner David Strohmaier said it was important to remove any graffiti as soon as possible. If it’s left untouched, it’s an invitation for others to join in.
“It’s a tough moral argument to say we aren’t going to fix this just because it will happen again,” Slotnik said. “This is the kind of message that we want to tell the greater world that we’re not okay with. The ‘FU’s are pretty tame, but the swastikas are not so tame.”
Staff suggested other options if repeatedly removing the graffiti got to be too expensive. Storer rejected the proposal of replacing the concrete barriers with a three-wire fence; too easy to tear down. But he liked the idea of putting up a remote camera and a sign that the area was under video surveillance.
Mike O’Herron, DNRC Southwestern Land Office manager, said the DNRC would look at the situation.
Slotnik said the issue would probably be raised again if the county can organize a “Deep Creek Summit.” Big Flat Road leads to Deep Creek, where a number of problematic issues exist.
Weyerhaeuser also owns several properties up Deep Creek Road that have an uncertain future. No one knew if the parcels were part of the upcoming Weyerhaeuser sale to Southern Pine Plantations.
But Slotnik has big visions of what Deep Creek could be for Missoula County.
“Projecting 20, 30 years into the future with all the mad growth we’re seeing, it’s imaginable to conceive of this place as the next version of what the Rattlesnake is,” Slotnik said. “Imagine it not as the Deep Creek it is now but cleaned up with better roads, parking areas and trailheads, and its access to beautiful public lands. But we would have to tame it first.”