Fences made of bicycle tire rims join the two houses and large yard where the Missoula Urbanization Demonstration Project was founded more than 30 years ago, and over the years painted doors, a bright orange chiminea and a garden growing everything from garlic to squash have contributed to the organization’s eclectic image.
Founded in 1981, MUD is one of Missoula’s oldest nonprofits, created to promote the idea of sustainable living through education and demonstration. It’s well-known in the community for its tool library and truck share programs.
July 2011 marked the beginning of one of the most significant changes in its history: The two-mile move from the 600 block of Phillips Street to 1527 Wyoming St., into a smaller lot of repurposed shipping containers. By the end of the year, all of MUD’s services had moved to the central location.
Recently, MUD’s board of directors listed the two houses where it all began for sale through Portico Real Estate.
Organizational director Bill Pfeiffer said selling the Northside location had been discussed by MUD’s board in the past and was vital to the organization’s future success in terms of reach and appeal.
“It was a difficult decision for the board, but it was in the best interest of the organization and us moving forward to where our future is going to lie, which is as a citywide organization,” Pfeiffer said.
There’s been a tinge of sadness in the overall excitement about MUD’s move.
Many people have lived in the two houses on Phillips over the years with the understanding they would demonstrate a sustainable lifestyle and fulfill work requirements each month. Patrick Gatez, 26, is one of the last, and he recalls a visitor earlier this summer relaying her experience there 30 years ago.
“The history extends older than I am. MUD has been around a long time. It’s a really special place,” Gatez said. “But just to keep MUD working toward what it needs to do for Missoula, I think it’s the right choice.”
Pfeiffer said there’s been some negative reaction to the move stemming from nostalgia, but overall it’s been positive.
“There’s a lot of emotional attachment to the Northside location,” Pfeiffer said. “It’s a great place where a lot of great stuff has happened. In a lot of ways, it was the birthplace of sustainability in Missoula.”
North Missoula Community Development Corp. President Bob Oaks expressed disappointment in the move, but declined to otherwise comment. MUD’s original tool library was established in Oaks' home garage in 1987.
While a chapter filled with memories comes to a close for MUD, many said the organization’s story is far from over and that the move is helpful.
“MUD really isn’t a place; it is about an idea of bringing sustainability,” Pfeiffer said.
Colin Woodrow, MUD’s board president, said the nine-member board was unanimous that the organization needs to invest in the future rather than look to the past. He said there’s a lot of opportunity in consolidating on Wyoming.
“There are thousands of folks who’ve been touched by MUD and they probably have a thousand different views of where we can and should go. It’s both a blessing and a curse,” Woodrow said.
After struggling to break even during the economic downturn, MUD was able to overcome the hardship. Membership has almost tripled in the past 18 months, and records are consistently being set for monthly tool library use. Citywide awareness of the organization also increased after the move.
As an organization based on sustainability, the move represents both the success of MUD’s original mission and the theme for moving forward.
“In the mid-’80s, (sustainability) was a really novel idea. It’s really fantastic to see over a few decades how that is pulled into the mainstream more and more,” Woodrow said. “We’re finally trying to position us in a way that is truly sustainable; it’s core to our mission values.”
The two houses MUD is selling on Phillips consist of a one-bedroom on two lots with a large yard that includes the garden and chicken coop, and a one-bedroom on one lot with a loft.
According to KD Dickinson, the Portico real estate agent representing MUD, the asking price of $165,000 for each property is appropriate. During the short time the houses have been on the market, one offer has already been made. MUD’s board of directors is discussing the bid.
As for Gatez, the sunflowers and garden are among what he’ll miss the most.
“Every morning, you wake up there’s a lot of birds out here. Everything is just really full of life, and it’s really great,” Gatez said.