By Kay Braddock
What began as a seemingly insignificant March 26 press release would eventually develop into the chatter that only a small town can effectively produce – or appreciate.
The brief announcement declared that the nation’s largest metal prairie dog sculpture would be unveiled in Terry’s very own Murn Park. Ceremonies, hosted by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Prairie Dogs, were set to begin Thursday, April 1 at 10 a.m.
The announcement was posted and distributed throughout Terry’s business district and e-mailed to the area’s media outlets, including the Miles City Star and the Billings Gazette.
It didn’t take long for the rumblings to begin.
Prairie County Sheriff Bill Klunder acknowledged that although he didn’t receive any phone calls on the matter, he did entertain a lot of questions about the upcoming unveiling. Conversations “on the street” were centered on the particulars of the April 1 affair.
Prairie County Chamber of Commerce President Dale Galland also acknowledgedly hearing a lot of feedback on the unveiling - and it wasn’t all good.
Some were a little up in arms about the affair, Galland would later recall.
At least two officials asked to help host the event dedicated to prairie dogs rejected the offer.
“I told him that I would have to decline,” Klunder recalled telling Bob van der Valk, the instigator of the April 1 event. Terry Mayor Ron Kiosse also declined.
Prairie County Grazing District Secretary and District Administrator of the Conservation District Sandra Brown said she became interested in the event when a friend from Helena called her asking about the unveiling after he heard about it on a local radio station.
Employees at the USDA building, where Brown works, began talking and wondering what the ruckus was really all about. Brown said she decided to investigate the matter on her drive to the post office.
“I’ll just stop by and see what it’s all about,” Brown recalled. The decision to attend the event was based on “total curiosity.”
Less than a dozen people attended the event. Although the dismal rainy weather likely deterred many, the event’s declaration as a dedication to prairie dogs most likely warded off more.
And what about that prairie dog statue, which was declared to be the largest in the nation? Well, it was all a hoax - an April Fool’s joke intended to promote Terry as a fun place to visit, van der Valk explained in a subsequent press release.
The “planned” 18-foot prairie dog statue, turned out to be a measly 18-inches.
But the event created what most promoters hope to produce – commotion, and a fair amount of media attention. A recent addition to Terry’s community, van der Valk would later boast of the television and radio news coverage the unveiling produced.
According to van der Valk’s press release, Terry rancher Russ Waples, who attended the April 1 unveiling declared, “Prairie dogs are good,” quickly adding, “good for shooting.”
Published April 7, 2010