MILLTOWN/WEST RIVERSIDE – A storied river runs under Missoula’s latest iterance of a weekend market.
Seven vendors of produce, plants and crafts – not to mention a stream of townsfolk steady enough to surprise almost everyone – spent part of their Sunday at the inaugural Milltown Bridge Market.
Billy Izzard, a retired union masonry worker who started a community garden just up the road three years ago, talked longtime friend and gardener Tom Robinson into helping him open the market on a pedestrian bridge that crosses the Blackfoot River.
They left the format open and loose, and for $10 a “stall” people set up tables and sawhorses and turned the usually quiet county bridge – known locally known as the “Black Bridge” – into a busy if not bustling marketplace. Some of the customers and at least one of the vendors arrived after local churches let out.
Brent Rogers hauled a selection of chainsaw carvings from his home on the Milltown side of the bridge, one of them an eye-catching, life-sized Amazon woman sculpture.
“Five weeks from now, with word of mouth and that gas station over there, this is going to be crazy,” Rogers predicted, pointing at the busy Town Pump Truck Plaza on the West Riverside side.
“I do OK (at home), but I’ve always needed to be out here where people can see you,” Rogers said. “They won’t let you set up over there at the Town Pump, so this is perfect.”
The 1921 bridge was once the main highway span across the Blackfoot, but became of secondary importance in the late 1940s when the current state highway bridge was built. It was closed to vehicles in the early 1970s. A community effort helped save it from extinction and it was the subject of an award-winning reconstruction in 2008.
Izzard sees it as a resource that can be of much more use than his market.
“We take the money from this, and it would help finance, like, a Christmas stroll, having people out here selling chili, a parade of lights … decorating the bridge. I mean it’s endless, the possibilities,” he said. “It’s all what people want to do. The problem these days is people are always worried about their own lunch bucket. If people just get together it’s amazing the power that they have.”
Like Rogers, most of the vendors came only a mile or two to set up their tables.
Annie Bernauer had the most unique stand – two solar panels laid end to end, of the kind that generate the juice that runs the sewing machine with which Bernauer stitches together old T-shirts into babies’ hats and other colorful clothing items. The panels come from husband Walter’s business, Big Sky Solar-Wind, and according to him are hardy enough to hold even the occasional installation worker when need be.
Ada, the Bernauers’ 9-month-old daughter, slept soundly in a stroller nearby.
“We live in West Riverside and we don’t like going into town very much, even though it’s not that far,” Annie said. “The Missoula Market is kind of overwhelming to me, so it’s awesome getting to meet other local crafters and growers and visiting with neighbors. And the view and the venue is just awesome.”
Robinson said the market will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Sunday until late fall, when pumpkin growers and “the apple people” can take part.
He had no better idea than anyone else what Sunday’s response would be, by vendors or customers. But the number of locals who showed up in the first hour was gratifying.
“We didn’t want it to be Missoula,” said Izzard. “We’re Milltown, for God’s sake. In this area everything’s about change, and so, hey this is a change.”
Alice Ryan’s wares fit right into the feel-good motif.
The West Riverside woman and 8-year-old son Kevin were selling crowns, attractive and colorful, made of wire and ribbons and beads and jewels and flowers. Attached to the bridge railing were sets of wings, made of acrylic, of a butterfly, a bat, a dragonfly and a demon.
“I really try to meet people’s wants within the realm of my art,” said Ryan. “I think that everybody deserves a chance to smile, to have fun, to put away the worries and the pain a little bit, and just smile. That’s what this does.”
Doug and Kristi Brown Snyder of West Riverside find the same kind of solace in gardening. Their table held nine varieties of greenhouse tomato plants, and they’ve been enthusiastically active in Izzard’s growing Milltown Garden Patch.
“I learned to grow from Billy,” said Doug, who figures if he increased production ten-fold he might be able to make some money. “I can’t wait to get in the garden every day.”
He’s been battling lymphoma for 10 years. The Snyders were married last September, just days before Kristi was diagnosed with acute leukemia. Treatments will take them away from home for most of the summer, but they’ll support Izzard’s community garden vision to the end.
“We really do believe in the garden,” said Kristi.
Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at 523-5266 or at email@example.com.