LAKE COUNTY - Not even once.
The mantra has been preached by the Montana Meth Project for years, a plea for people of the state to not try the dangerous, addictive drug that has been known to eviscerate communities.
In an attempt to prevent meth use, the project has run TV, radio and billboard advertising campaigns, getting the message out that even one-time use of the drug can have devastating consequences. Now, though, it's the kids' turn, their time to send a message to their peers that they won't use the drug and neither should others.
"When you have a preventative campaign like ours that is mostly media driven, this is the way to get kids involved," Julie Cowan, Montana Meth Project program manager, said.
Motorists and pedestrians in Lake County should have noticed the graphic, creative artwork groups of teens have put up in the last week, their ideas on how to get their "Not even once" message across.
"I'm really pleased to see the kids getting behind it and spreading the word," County Commissioner Bill Barron said. "It's the best way to get the message out."
From Arlee to Big Arm and everywhere in between, entries have popped up, and, aside from getting their messages across, contestants have a chance to cash in on some big money prizes. Countywide, the first place winner, based on judging by the County Commissioners, can earn $1,500 and there is $1,000 for second and $500 for third.
The winner from Lake County will be entered into the statewide pool with winners from the other 55 counties and have the chance to win another $5,000 if selected. Winners will be announced on Aug. 20 during a special ceremony in Helena.
The Commissioners used a 100-point scale to judge the entries. Forty points each went to creativity and message, while 20 were awarded for visibility. Art was displayed and judged all last week, July 19 to 23, and creators, with landowner permission, can keep up their work for as long as they'd like.
"I thought there was some real creativity," Barron said of the projects. "It was actually kind of tough to do the judging. There were about six that really stood out and were hard to decide between."
The "Paint the State" project has been done before, Cowan said, in 2006, when the project had 660 individuals enter. Groups were not allowed at that time, she said, so this year's number, approximately 400 entries, is less than before, but individual participation has certainly increased.
"We had 110 kids in one group over at the University [of Montana]," Cowan said.
Lake County has 15 group entries this year, up from eight in 2006. But one of the interesting and long-lasting effects of the project is that artwork from four years ago is still visible around the county, meaning the message remains. On the side of the Lake City Bakery in Polson, Lake County's winning project from 2006 still shows on the brick wall facing an alley. A painting of hands lighting a meth pipe and the words "Not even once" still show on a building on U.S. Highway 93 near the Jolly Pack Rat.
"You see [the artwork] and it's on your mind all the time," Barron said.
Cowan said the fact that this artwork becomes part of the areas that host it is a reason for the broad appeal of the event.
"People have been asking, ‘When are you going do to another paint the state?'" she said. "If you go around the state, you'll see art from one corner to the other."
A Townsend teen won the award in 2006, but this year, someone from the area could have a great chance at the top prize.
"There were a lot of entries this year from Lake County and they looked pretty good," Cowan said. "We're thrilled with the artwork from around the state."
Ultimately, Barron said teens are the key to preventing the youth from trying meth.
"I can tell you after being involved in law enforcement for more than 30 years that every year, drug use got worse and worse and meth was the worst to come along," he said. "I think it's huge for young people to get behind because there are a lot of adults now with brains scrambled by the drug."
Readers can visit www.paintthestatemontanan.org to view entries from around the state, including the 15 within Lake County.