President’s Article: October

The Downtown Missoula Heritage Interpretive Plan and Legacy Trail

As with most communities, Missoula is proud of a history and heritage that makes it one-of-a-kind in Montana, the country and the world. As it so important to recognize, honor and educate ourselves and visitors alike about the region’s history, the Downtown Missoula Partnership in collaboration with the Missoula Preservation Office and various community stakeholders developed the comprehensive Missoula Downtown Foundation’s Heritage Interpretative Plan. Born from this plan is a new program designed to implement it that is aptly named Heritage Missoula.

The Heritage Interpretive Plan itself is an active initiative created for and dedicated to bringing Missoula’s unique story to life within the framework of a comprehensive, detailed master plan. Partial funding was provided by a generous grant from Montana Department of Commerce, along with other ongoing funding sources, in order to support this important vision. The Foundation’s Heritage Missoula committee and planning team members have been actively working on the details for making this become reality and are in the first stages of implementation.

Highlights of this include the development of the Heritage Interpretive Trail throughout Downtown Missoula. This will consist a series of wayfinding signs, “gateways” and interpretive kiosks along the walkable trail throughout Downtown that highlight the territory, geography, typography and historical significance of spirit of place. There will be four designated “anchor” points for this trail with permanently installed medallions to identify them as such. These anchors have been identified as the Missoula Public Library, Missoula Art Museum, Zootown Arts Community Center (ZACC) & Caras Park.

And as we are nearing the opening of our stupendous new Missoula Public Library, the first kiosk and medallion are currently being installed. Per DMP Program Director Kalina Wickham, “The (Heritage Missoula) subcommittee has been hard at work curating the content for the first kiosk at the Missoula Public Library. We have been lucky enough to work with the CSKT (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe) Culture Committee on the content and hopefully we can engage them further on other Heritage Missoula projects. The kiosk base will begin to be installed this month with the installation of the medallion. We will then begin to work on the kiosk at the Missoula Art Museum. The MDF (Missoula Downtown Foundation) is focusing their fall campaign on the Heritage Interpretive Plan – the Spirit of Place Campaign. We will hopefully fundraise for some of our current and future projects within Heritage Missoula. We will be doing special tours, the Spirit of Place Heritage Tours & Dinners, in October as a part of the fundraising plan.”

As Kalina mentions, a critical piece of the overall plan involves input from the Séliš – Ql̓ispé Culture Committee to help develop appropriate and educational language to describe the cultural significance of this territory to the Native Peoples who have called it home for generations. It is a story that has been downplayed over many years, and Heritage Missoula clearly recognizes that it must rightly be told with the very voice of the people of whose story it is. I, for one, honor their story and look forward to being educated about it from their point of view by way of public display. It truly deserves everyone’s attention and respect. If you’ve ever been to the Milltown State Park right down the road and have seen the Séliš – Ql̓ispé developed interpretive kiosks describing the generational sacredness the river confluence area has held for Native People over eons, then you have gotten a taste of what will appear on the Heritage Trail in terms of their story.

The Purpose and Guidelines for the Heritage Plan as outlined on their website are:

  • To use heritage interpretation to communicate the intangible values associated with Downtown Missoula and preserve its overall spirit of place.
  • To help identify ways to communicate Downtown Missoula’s heritage and guide how future heritage programming is implemented.
  • To build awareness of the heritage values that exist in Downtown Missoula.
  • To help the public understand why Downtown Missoula is important from multiple perspectives.
  • To provide a resource for interpretive practitioners, partners, and stakeholders who might develop Downtown Missoula interpretation.

As you can see, considerable thought has been given to the what the Heritage Plan and Interpretive Trail are intended for, with the overall guiding premise being “We consider ‘heritage’ to be the collective fabric that defines and distinguishes Missoula. It is the spirit of place. It is how Missoula sounds, looks, smells, and feels. It is what makes Missoula, Missoula.” And with the Interpretative Plan’s overall theme being Downtown Missoula as a place of gathering. This sense of gathering has always been part of makes the Missoula area so vibrant and livable. In addition to its geographical history of ancient glacier-made lakes that scoured the landscape, and the cumulative effect of its being a crossroads for many cultures since time immemorial, Missoula deserves to have its history shared in glorious and permanent fashion from many different perspectives. And this is a living, breathing, interactive and ongoing process that will last generations into the future. Heritage Missoula is about to make this come to life with the Heritage Interpretive Trail … coming soon throughout Downtown!

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