Montana Public Radio

Sentinel Caretaker Says Leave 'M' Out Of Politics

Oct 17, 2018

As President Trump’s visit to Missoula Thursday energizes both his supporters and protesters, a caretaker for Mt. Sentinel says using the hillside’s iconic 100-foot tall, white “M” for political messaging causes damage to the mountain.

Marilyn Marler is the natural areas manager at the University of Montana.

“I think that people might have a sense like, 'well, it’s just one time and my message is really important,'” Marler says. “And I get that, but it’s not just this one time. And everybody’s message is important.”

Marler says she’s heard discussions about using the letter for political messages of all sorts Thursday. And she understands the appeal: it’s like a big billboard all of Missoula can see.

But there’s a long history of using the mountainside for constructing gigantic signs, and those actions create erosion and trample sensitive parts of the ecosystem. She says new letters themselves can effectively bake plant life living below.

Plus, she says, making these signs inspires others to act in the same way.

“You know I understand that people like to make statements, but let’s just find a different way,” she says.

Marler says digital manipulation of the "M" in photographs can make the same statement without damaging a valuable landscape.