One of Whitefish Mountain Resort’s most well known residents is destined for a fresh coat of paint after the Big Mountain Jesus statue had its normally white head and hands painted brown last weekend.
The 6-foot tall statue sits atop a ski run on a small parcel of land leased from the U.S. Forest Service by the Knights of Columbus, Council 128, and has been the subject of some controversy over the years. The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation sued to get the statue removed in 2012 but lost the initial case and an appeal in federal court.
Knights of Columbus council member and chaplain Charlie Harball said his group isn’t particularly upset about the vandalism, which apparently occurred sometime over the weekend of July 11-12. Whitefish Mountain Resort CEO Dan Graves called the council to inform them of the new paint and Harball said the group is planning to move up an already scheduled maintenance visit to repaint the statue in the near future.
“In my perspective, this makes me roll my eyes because we all know (Jesus) wasn’t a Caucasian European, we get that, point made, in my mind anyway,” Harball said. “I don’t think we’re terribly offended. There are people who will get offended by it; it gets divisive. We’re trying to downplay it as much as possible.”
The statue has experienced prior vandalism over the years, although Harball said much of that comes from skiers and snowboarders accidentally colliding with it, often during an ill-fated jump or trick attempt.
“Generally people are pretty respectful of it,” Harball said. “There hasn’t really been the amount of vandalism that you might expect for something out in the public like that.”
Lauren Alley with the Flathead National Forest said law enforcement agencies are aware of the incident. Harball said he and the Knights of Columbus are not pursuing any compensatory damages.
Big Mountain Jesus, as the statue is affectionately known, was first placed by the Knights of Columbus in 1955. In applying for a special-use permit, the group said the statue is a memorial to soldiers who died in World War II.
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