Fed up with people messing with the school's initial on Mount Jumbo, workers make it permanent

Now the "L" stands for lots of labor.

A dozen students, alumni and parents of Loyola Sacred Heart High School cemented the school's "L" into place on Mount Jumbo on Tuesday, hoping to end the seemingly endless rearranging of the whitewashed rocks that previously formed the hillside letter.

"When Mount Jumbo became open space owned by the city, the 'L' became Missoula's reader board," said Patrick Haggarty, president of Missoula Catholic Schools and Loyola's principal. "There were times when it was embarrassing, times when it was silly, times when it was really serious and times when it boiled the blood."

There were marriage proposals, memorials to suicide and accident victims, entreaties to voters and rock bands - and, most recently, a reincarnation of Missoula's other notable hillside insignia, the peace sign. Time and again, Loyola students trudged up the mountain to return the rocks to their intended form. Time and again, the "L" was rearranged.

Not once, though, did the school consider removing its insignia, Haggarty said. "It was never a question of should the 'L' stay. The 'L' is staying. It is a real source of pride for our school."

Thus the labor.

On Monday, activities director Steve Pinsoneault took 35 football players up the mountain to retrieve all the rocks that had rolled down the incline - or been placed in new formations - in recent years.

"It was a lesson in teamwork," Pinsoneault said. "We formed an assembly line and started passing rocks back up the hill. We worked 'em pretty hard."

Knowing the phantom letter rearrangers would likely vandalize their work, Haggarty and several Loyola students and alumni spent Monday night on Mount Jumbo. Sure enough, a half-dozen adults arrived at 11:45 p.m. - carrying big plastic tubs.

"And we spoiled their plan," Haggarty said. "Whatever their plan was."

"They just kind of hung around for a while, looking to see if we would leave," said Gem Toussaint, a junior at Loyola. "I don't think they believed that we were really going to stay there all night."

"But we did," said Eric Anderson, another junior. "It's important to keep the 'L' up there. It's our school symbol."

First thing Tuesday, the crew arrived to fix the rocks inside a block-letter form. A helicopter from Minuteman Aviation ferried buckets of cement from the bench above Cherry Street to the "L," one every three or four minutes, and the workers hustled to smooth the payload.

"We want something that will be safe and secure and right for the environment," said Haggarty, who relied on advice from several Loyola parents and alums who are contractors. "The idea is to keep the rocks in place, and to keep the 'L' in its shape."

The "L" dates to 1961, when a group of Loyola seniors constructed an insignia out of rocks from a scree deposit further up the hill, placing them inside a wooden frame and whitewashing them. Every fall since, Loyola's seniors have escorted freshmen up Mount Jumbo for a picnic and whitewashing party.

"We've worked long and hard to keep that baby in good shape," Haggarty said. "It's a real sense of pride and tradition for our students and alums."

Each time over the years that the property changed hands, Loyola asked for permission to keep the "L" on the mountain. When Florence Smith sold the land to Five Valleys Land Trust (for eventual sale to the city as open space), the resulting conservation easement included a perpetual "L."

But if Loyola fails to maintain the letter for two years or more, the easement could be terminated, said Haggarty said. So Tuesday's work was "not only the best thing to do, but the necessary thing."

Kate Supplee, Missoula's open space program manager, said the city has taken a hands-off approach to the "L" and the issues surrounding its vandalism in recent years. Missoula does not have the money or manpower to police the mountain, she said. And the "L" is private property.

"Loyola had a right long before the city owned the land," she said. "We have gotten a few calls over the years, complaining about the rearranging of the letter. And there are people who would rather see the hillside in a natural state. But the school has a right to keep the 'L' and that's what they are doing."

Haggarty said the school has some - but not all - of the money needed to pay for Tuesday's work. "We've had some friends of the school step forward and say they will help, and we certainly have a generous memorial fund. And a few hundred dollars came in after people saw us up on the hill."

Mostly, though, Loyola needs help keeping the hillside clean and the "L" intact, its principal said.

"What we're hoping, almost to the point of begging, is that people will not bring any more paper or cardboard or trash up there," Haggarty said. "And definitely that they won't do anything to the rocks. We want the 'L' to say something positive about Missoula and about our school."

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