Aerial photography project to update city maps after 4 years of growth

Downtown Missoula and other parts of the city have changed over the past four years, leaving the aerial maps completed four years ago somewhat outdated. This photo was taken two years ago from an altitude of several hundred feet, though the GIS mapping project will capture the city from several thousand feet. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

On a clear blue day this spring, an aerial photography company based in Boise will fly over the Missoula Valley, mapping the city with precision.

Conducted every few years, the vertical photography project details the changes unfolding below and provides the city with a valuable tool for mapping redevelopment and other needs.

“These prints are the go-to reference tool when discussing projects with potential developers, and they’ve proven to be invaluable over the years,” said Tod Gass, a project coordinator with the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. “We’re pretty much on a cycle to replace these every four to five years.”

The last series of wall maps were produced in April 2014, just before the latest wave of development found its way to Missoula.

Measuring roughly 8 feet per panel, the maps don’t include redevelopment along the Brooks Street corridor, or that on North Reserve. The new Poverello Center isn’t pictured off West Broadway; neither is the new downtown hotel or the student housing project – both under construction.

The Old Sawmill District is still portrayed as a vacant field. There is no Mary Avenue, no addition to Southgate Mall, and growth off Mullan Road is far from being current.

“We’re still working through the costs and would like to be ready, when the conditions are right, to just say ‘go’ when the trees haven’t leafed out yet and we’ve got a nice blue, calm day,” said Gass. “They’ll send an aircraft up here to fly the valley and collect that information.”

Valley Air Photos, based in Boise, flies a Beechcraft Bonanza equipped for digital film acquisition. The company produced the last round of maps for the city back in 2014, replacing a local family that once provided the service.

One of those former aerial photographers – Scott Karr – was injured in a plane crash in June 2005 shortly after takeoff from Missoula International Airport. Karr was a passenger with Ed Lovrien and MAP Inc. when the plane crashed in a hay field and burned, leaving both passengers with serious injuries.

“Percy Karr is in his mid-80s now, so he decided to retire, and his son was in a plane wreck a few years ago right after it took off,” said Chris Behan, assistant director with MRA. “He wasn’t physically able to do it anymore, so they sold all their business to the place in Boise.”

Like that last series of maps, MRA will partner with the city’s GIS Services to pay for the updated series, and it approved a maximum budget of $10,000 to cover its portion of the cost. It also looks to produce a large-scale map of the downtown district.

“We’re going to investigate whether or not we can take the downtown core portion of this and have it done an inch to 100 – just a larger-scale map,” said Ellen Buchanan, director of MRA. “We’re down on our hands and knees looking at downtown, and that’s where so much is going on.”