The U.S. Forest Service has agreed to renew a controversial special use permit in a ski area in Montana. As previously reported, in October the U.S. Forest Service withdrew an earlier decision and instead sought public comment on reissuing a special use permit to the Knights of Columbus for a statue of Jesus that has since 1955 been located on land in the Flathead National Forest. Between Oct. 19 and Dec. 8, the Forest Service received 95,000 comments. In a press release issued yesterday, the Forest Service said in part:
The permit is reauthorized for ten years and is for the display of a statue of Jesus Christ on a 25 foot by 25 foot parcel of land near the top of Chair Two at Whitefish Mountain Resort.
[Flathead National Forest Supervisor, Chip] Weber says he is reauthorizing the permit because “I understand the statue has been a long-standing object in the community since 1955, and I recognize that the statue is important to the community for its historical heritage based on its association with the early development of the ski area on Big Mountain.” The statue’s historic value and eligibility for listing on the National Register of Historic Places is in part directly linked to the current physical location of the statue.KBZK News reports on these developments in an article that carries photos of the statue. All of the Project Documents are also available online. The Washington Post reports that the decision means that Rep. Denny Rehberg will withdraw his bill that would have authorized a land swap so that the land on which the statue sat would have been privately owned. The Post also points out that the statue was originally put up by Knights of Columbus members who were inspired by similar statues in European mountains that many saw in World War II.