Riding out 2021

Katherine Sears
Managing Editor
Thursday, December 30, 2021
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A rodeo contestant rides out eight seconds during the Central Montana Fair PRCA rodeo in July. While 2021 offered a lot of good things across Central Montana, it might be fair to say residents are happy to ride this year out into 2022, hopefully with abundant moisture and less wind.

Photo by Matthew Strissel


Fair a hit, construction booms in 2021

Most probably aren’t sure what to make of the year 2021. While many may remember the tragedies the year brought, there were several good things happening in Central Montana.

Local anglers enjoyed ice fishing tournaments during the brief winter the beginning of the year.

The Fergus County Sheriff’s Office underwent a major renovation for the first time since its construction.

By February, planning was well underway for the 2021 Central Montana Fair. After an abbreviated fair in 2020 due to the pandemic, fair committees decided to go “all out” for this fair. The theme “Unmask the Fair” was chosen, and planning continued. Chris LeDoux headlined the Night Show, and the rodeo saw a major increase in contestants, who performed in front of a sold-out crowd both nights. The fair was considered a major success, and the fair board reported a major increase in profits compared to years prior.

Local recreationists planned to create a hiking and biking trail at East Fork Reservoir with approval from the City of Lewistown. A group of volunteers cut in a little over four miles of trail on the east side of the reservoir in 2021, with plans to do more in the new year.

Construction started on the Winifred School expansion, which features an Astroturf football field, state-of-the-art learning facilities, a vertical garden, and exercise center for the community. Winifred native Norm Asbjornson funded most of the multimillion-dollar project, and work continues on the project.

The Lewistown Art Center planned a mural for the south side of their building, and Central Montana artist Leaf Argotti completed the masterpiece.

The county courthouse saw updates, including new sidewalks, and the removal of the concrete steps in the north lawn.

Local construction boomed despite supply chain issues and increases in material costs.
Maiden Road was paved, and culverts repaired and replaced. The paving project came after a years-long dispute over who was responsible for the road. The much-needed upgrades were the first to the road since it was built as part of the missile construction in the 1960s.

Creekside Park opened in Lewistown next to Central Feed Grilling Company.

Central Montana Medical Center unveiled plans to add a cancer facility in Lewistown.

Lewistown sophomore Julia Kunau was crowned Miss Montana Teen USA.

Numerous locals stepped up to help with recovery efforts from the three major fires, and a disaster relief fund for the county was established.


Drought, fire plague Central Montana in 2021

After a turbulent 2020 due to the pandemic, folks were hoping 2021 would offer some reprieve. In some ways it did, but in the way of weather, “reprieve” wasn’t in Mother Nature’s vocabulary.
An “out like a lamb” type of new year ushered in a drier and warmer January than normal, which would set the stage for a year of above average temperatures, below average precipitation, and breezy conditions. The wind made the news several times early in the new year, as it uprooted trees and destroyed structures. Residents around Moore seemed to be especially affected by the wind the first few months of 2021.

February brought some snow, but wind and drought talk continued to dominate. In March, local fire officials reported that current conditions favored a late, but very active fire season if the area did not receive more moisture. Little snow fell throughout the remainder of the winter, and Central Montana headed into summer much drier than normal.

On June 3, Lewistown tied the record for the highest temperature, 89 degrees, set in 1988. By the beginning of July, there was talk of entering fire restrictions. Fergus County Fire Warden Ryan Peterson reported volunteer fire departments were having a busy year, and local farmers and ranchers had been prepared to extinguish all the small fires that had occurred so far.

The county implemented Stage 1 fire restrictions on July 16, several weeks earlier than normal. Drought kept locals on edge, and just two weeks later, one of the largest fires the area had seen in years burned 22,000 acres between Denton and Winifred.

The Taylor Fire was the first of three major fires the county would witness in 2021, all occurring almost exactly two months apart in August, October, and December.
Local residents and volunteer fire departments fought the fast-moving blaze, at times keeping flames only inches from buildings. An unusual sight during the fire involved flaming grasshoppers flying downwind and starting spot fires.

The county entered Stage 2 fire restrictions on Aug. 14, and local producers reported record low hay production. Lewistown Livestock Auction was a busy place as ranchers culled herds deeper and earlier than normal. That theme would continue throughout the rest of the year, and fall shipping occurred much earlier than normal as hay was in short supply.  

On Oct. 4, the South Moccasin Fire quickly burned up most of the South Moccasin range northwest of Lewistown. The intense smoke and flames were visible from every side of the range for several days, and unseasonably dry conditions allowed the heavy timber to burn hot and fast. The human caused fire would burn 12,000 acres before its containment later in the week.
In November, 2021 was on track to be the driest year ever for Lewistown, according to the National Weather Service.

On Dec. 1, the county witnessed its most tragic wildland fire incident to date. A fire that started from a power line event due to high winds late the night before north of Stanford, was pushed toward the town of Denton by 60-plus mph winds. Temperatures that night registered in the 60s as crews worked to fight the fire in unseasonable conditions.

Despite firefighters’ best efforts, by the afternoon of Dec. 1, Mother Nature pushed the flames into the town of Denton, burning 25 homes and several other structures. The town had been evacuated twice during the fire, and everyone involved escaped injury, which officials deemed a miracle of sorts.  
While many residents are still displaced from the fire, most say they will rebuild.