Elmer trail 10/16/96
By William Simonsen
Condon, Mont. — State foresters are attempting to take revenge on Bigfork Eagle political cartoonist Elmer Sprunger.
Officials from the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation last week said they would not include Sprunger’s name on an educational nature trail in the Swan Valley.
Ted Giesey of the Kalispell DNRC office said Sprunger’s name was taken off the trail because, “Elmer had misrepresented state land management practices through his political cartoons.”
Due to Sprunger’s criticism Giesey said he and Swan River state forester Glen Gray decided that, “To put his name on a trail on Dept. of Natural Resources land was not acceptable.”
But other state officials disagree with Giesey.
Lt. Gov. Dennis Rehberg said, “They can’t do that,” when told that DNRC was attempting to punish Sprunger for his political comments. Rehberg said he would be calling DNRC Director Bud Clinch in an attempt to get the decision overturned.
State Sen. Larry Baer, R-Bigfork, wrote Clinch, “Not only does your behavior exhibit a political discriminatory mentality by a government agency, but it has a chilling effect upon Mr. Sprunger’s rights of free speech and expression.
“…I have seen DNRC abuse its discretion before, and I don’t like it,” he wrote.
Baer demanded DNRC apologize to “Mr. Sprunger and the people of Montana…”
Dale Burk of Stoneydale Press in Stevensville, publisher of Sprunger’s Book “The Eagle’s Eye”, wrote Gov. Marc Racicot and said, in part: “Giesy’s action is unconscionable and you, Governor, for whom Giesy works and who is ultimately responsible for this incredibily vindictive and punitive action by an aent of state governfment, should immediately ovverride and censure this stupid and outrageous action…”
The Eagle called Racicot’s office Friday and Tuesday, but received no response from the governor by press time.
Clinch, reached by telephone Tuesday, said he didn’t have enough information yet to “give you a position the dispute…As director of the department I will be reviewing the situation.”
Clinch said he was out of the office Friday and Monday and hadn’t had time to talk to the parties involved in the dispute, but planned to do so later this week.
The trail, commonly known as the Whitney-Sprunger Trail since it’s inception, is on land leased from DNRC by the conservation group Friends of the Wild Swan.
In addition to Sprunger it was to have been named after Bigfork area conservationist Jack Whitney.
Sprunger said he thought the cartoon DNRC found especially objectionable is a 1994 drawing of a logger holding a chainsaw standing in the midst of a field of stumps labeled “Montana School Trust Lands.” Another showed a logger dropping a few coins into the hands of a student and saying “Sorry kid — that’s it! That’s all you get — zilch — keput!”
Giesey said the state has final approval of the trail name under “a formal license agreement” between the state and Friends of the Wild Sway.
Giesey said he suggested a number of alternate names for the trial. He said the department preferred “one (name) from their side and one (name) from our side.”
He suggested naming the trail the Whitney-Moon trail after Whitney and former state forester Gareth Moon.
Giesey said he also suggested naming the trail after a geographic feature in the vicinity, or after Gov. Marc Racicot.
Giesey said the creation of the trail “has been a cooperative effort — I’m sure we’ll reach an agreement on a name.”
Giesey said although he would not approve the use of Sprunger’s name on the trail, he agreed to allow Sprunger to be mentioned in the brochure explaining the trail.
The trail, seven miles south of Swan Lake just off Montana 83, was scheduled for a formal opening Oct. 15 (yesterday). The opening ceremony was not held.
The trail was built through a stand of old growth timber near Point Pleasant by volunteers with help from the Montana Conservation Corps. Parts of the trail follow and ancient Salish tribal trail and the first wagon road down the Swan Valley, said Arlene Montgomery of Friends of the Wild Swan.
Funding assistance for the trail construction came from the Foley-Frischkorn Wildlife and Conservation Fund, and the Montana Audubon Council, said Montgomery.
© 2013 William Simonsen. All rights reserved.