Max Lentz was a Hellgate High School student who died in a kayaking accident in 2007 on the Gauley River in West Virginia. He was a popular kid who embodied many of the values shared by Missoulians. He was a friend to virtually anyone he met and could always be counted on for a good laugh. Max was a good friend to have and certainly won’t be forgotten by anyone who knew him.

A memorial fund was set up in Max’s name to create something that would honor Max. As tragic as the accident was, many of us have found peace in the fact that he died doing what he loved.  Therefore, we feel that his memorial should take the form of a river enhancement project that will allow more people to enjoy our river as Max did.

A little over one year ago, summer of 2008, The Max was just an idea shared by Max Lentz’s closest friends and family. The first meeting was held in the front yard of John and Sally Lentz’s home, overlooking the Missoula Valley. The meeting consisted of brownies, Sally’s famous cookies and maybe a dozen or so close friends that shared the same idea of creating a memorial for our friend Max Lentz.

Most of us shared, in some way, the same joy for the river as Max did, so that’s where our brainstorming began.  As Max’s friends say, “We want to do something bigger than just a memorial plaque for our friend, something that can be enjoyed by everyone and will benefit the entire community.”

We unanimously decided on a river enhancement project focusing on river recreation, river safety and river access along the Clark Fork River through downtown Missoula. Our specific potential sites for the project included the Missoula Irrigation District weir (MID), located at the mouth of Hellgate Canyon adjacent to the U of M, and the Flynn-Lowney Diversion weir, located across from the Osprey Stadium. Both sites are hazardous to river floaters, non-beneficial for aquatic life and serve no other function besides diverting water for irrigation purposes. Also included was the desire to increase river access sites throughout the downtown stretch of river.

As the project moved forward and a broad plan with various options arose we formulated a Steering Committee. The Steering Committee helps guide and facilitate the planning process for this project. Members of the committee contacted many of the persons to be involved if such a project were to succeed, in order to get there input on such a project. It was a slow way to go about starting the project but ensured better success down the road.

When we realized this project could really happen we began raising money. First off we decided on a project name, The Max. To start off the fundraising we designed a logo, made stickers, produced t-shirts, and created an aerial map of the Clark Fork River showing our specific potential sites.

With our arsenal of promotional materials The Max began hitting up Missoula at local events, creating awareness, and generating excitement. The first big community event for The Max was held in May 2009, where there was an art exhibit, silent auction, movie premier, food and beer all to bring in money for The Max. The event as a whole was meant to stir conversation about the project and inform as many people possible about The Max. This was the case for the rest of the summer.

On the non-fundraising side of things, the Steering Committee was prodding away at the MID board trying to get their approval and commitment towards The Max. As summer turned into winter and progress with the MID had been minimal at best The Max turned its attention away from the MID and towards the Flynn–Lowney Diversion.