By David Madison
Kevin Kelleher remembers the eureka moment coming while setting up a shuttle for a whitewater run down the Lower Selway River in Idaho. It was April of 1982, and while traveling along a Forest Service road with his soon-to-be wife Jennifer Iverson, the pair decided it was time to put Kevin’s journalism and history degree from the University of Idaho to work.
Kelleher had been thinking about starting a paper for some time, dating back to his final year in college, when for his senior project he wrote a research paper on what it would take to launch a free weekly newspaper in North Idaho.
“I sat outside grocery stores in little towns like Potlach and Sandpoint and asked people about whether or not they’d read a free, local paper,” recalls Kelleher, who’s a broker at Big Sky’s Triple Creek Realty. The responses were mixed because at the time publishing free papers was a new idea. Still, the experience planted a seed with Kelleher, who along with Iverson put out the first edition of the Lone Peak Lookout on May 27, 1982.
Before the Lookout, there was the Porcupine News, “a mimeographed paper published by Big Sky Resort,” recalls Kelleher, who bought another local paper, the Big Sky View, and turned it into the Lookout. The need for a rename arose from the poor distribution and broken promises made by Charles Russ, who sold the Big Sky View to Kelleher—even though Russ didn’t actually own the paper.
“He swindled me,” insists Kelleher. “I thought, ‘I can’t keep the name Big Sky View.’ We were good guys. We were trying to really do something for Big Sky. It was difficult for sure.”
Russ would later gain infamy by murdering his wife Pamela Russ, whose art work celebrating “Oly Days” appears on the cover of the last issue of the Big Sky View. Charles Russ disappeared, but was eventually captured thanks to the television show “America’s Most Wanted.”
Kelleher decided to call his paper the Lone Peak Lookout, partially because “Lone Mountain Lookout” took up too much space across the front page. He still owns the 1983 copper colored Toyota Tercel emblazoned with the Lone Peak Lookout logo that he and his now former wife Jennifer used to deliver papers.
For a retrospective profile published in the Lookout in 2012, Kelleher told reporter Jolene Keller (now Palmer), “The early years were tough.
In the recession of 1982 I bought the Toyota wagon at 15 percent interest so we could sell ads door-to-door from Bozeman to West Yellowstone.”
Not all businesses were receptive and Kelleher recalls one restaurant owner just outside West Yellowstone throwing coffee at him.
“That fired me up to the point that I was not going to fail on this thing,” Kelleher recalled in 2012, noting that eventually he was able to successfully win the disgruntled restaurant owner over and going forward, West Yellowstone businesses became important clients.
“Without the businesses in West Yellowstone, the Lone Peak Lookout wouldn’t have made it past a couple years,” says Kelleher.
Kelleher gradually increased the paper’s newsgathering muscle and scooped publications across the country when the “Mountain Man Murder” story broke in 1984. The media frenzy around this bizarre kidnapping-murder saga was interesting to witness, but Kelleher says he’s always envisioned the Lookout as a hyper-local publication.
“That’s something we share with the founder of the Lookout—we are dedicated to local, community journalism,” says current Lookout Publisher Susanne Hill. Hill and her business partner Erin Leonard also own the The Madisonian in Madison County and the West Yellowstone Star.
In 1998, Kelleher sold the Lookout to Pioneer Publishing, the former owners of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. The paper carried on until 2015, when Pioneer closed the Lookout. Over the last two years, as Hill and Leonard have built up The Madisonian and West Yellowstone Star, they’ve also kept an eye on Big Sky and the opportunity to relaunch the Lookout.
“We believe good local journalism adds value to communities and the businesses that make them run,” says Hill. “It’s an honor to return the Lookout to Big Sky and be part of the exciting growth unfolding here.”
Kelleher, who recently kayaked the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River despite an ongoing battle with leukemia, says, “I’ve been hearing a lot of good things. It sounds like people are excited to see the Lone Peak Lookout come back.”