Why do you love Yellowstone County?
I have to believe there are hundreds — maybe even thousands — of answers to that question.
And what makes Yellowstone County Yellowstone County?
That question could be answered in several ways from the precise, lines on a map which draw the border; or, it could be a more abstract, ever-changing concept, like all the people who live here.
It's the nexus of those two questions — what makes Yellowstone County and what do you love about it — that are going to drive a yearlong project that will be completed by The Gazette's news gathering staff.
The concept is simple — 52 places that define Yellowstone County.
But this isn't some written-in-stone project. Instead, we need your help (more on that in a moment).
Every Saturday, The Billings Gazette will choose a place that is familiar or somehow gets at what it means to live here in Yellowstone County. We're calling the project "YelCo 52." 52 weeks in a year, 52 stories.
We hope by the time we're finished with the project — in July 2015 — that we'll have painted a picture of the county and told its story through familiar places.
Today, we start with the Rimrocks, probably the most iconic landmark and place in Billings. Though, as Sue Olp's story on A1 reminds us, the Rims can be found in many places in southern Montana, not just Billings and not just Yellowstone County. And yet, there's an undeniable connection between Billings and the Rims. These standstone cliffs seem to define who we are and what we look like more than most other places for which those stone formations just kind of become background scenery, not defining borders.
If we do our job right, we will help tell a story, our history, and what it means to live in this place through our landmarks and sites. In one respect, this will be a tour of familiar places. In another very real aspect, it will be the story of us — who we are; where we are; and what we value.
It would be easy and arrogant for a staff to believe it knows all of those places. That's why I am putting out this call for help: We need your assistance when it comes to formulating a list of places that best define Yellowstone County.
So, we want to see your list of places that define Yellowstone County. You can send us your list via mail (Billings Gazette, ATTN: Darrell Ehrlick, P.O. Box 36300, Billings, MT 59107); you can send the list via email: email@example.com; you can send us a list of places on Facebook or Twitter. We'd love to publish some of the lists we receive.
Your input and your suggestions will help us form a list that we've begun here. We want your best ideas, your hidden gems and the spots inside the county's confines that mean the most to you. I am positive you'll have a few on it that we haven't thought of, or surprises that would make wonderful stories. For those who suggest original or great ideas, we might reach out to you to have you write a short piece describing why you believe a particular place defines Yellowstone County. The only requirement is that a place — or places — must be within the geographic boundaries of Yellowstone County. So, Billings, or Laurel or Lockwood or Custer or ... you get the idea.
Throughout the project, we'll plan to run these stories on Saturday's front page. It's going to be a large investment of our staff and our front-page real estate. We're fortunate to have a partner who has agreed to sponsor the project, MasterLube. Bill Simmons and MasterLube saw the value in this project and that's wonderful and not surprising since they've been at the forefront of so many good community projects, including the yearly mural challenges among the local high schools, each interesting places in Yellowstone County in their own right.
When I was describing this project to one person recently, they asked, "What happens if there are more than 52 places?"
I replied, "We have a back-up plan."
It went something like this: As long as they keep making Saturdays and we keep making newspapers, we'll be just fine.