Lewis & Clark most popular offering
By Sonja Lee
Great Falls Tribune
License plates featuring explorers Meriwether Lewis and William
Clark are the most popular specialty plates sold in Montana.
Picturesque Glacier National Park plates come in second.
As of January, a total of 12,510 Lewis and Clark Bicentennial
plates were on vehicles that routinely travel Montana's roadways.
There were 10,724 renewals and first-time purchases of Glacier
National Park license plates.
Third place went to Gallatin County Open Lands, with 7,712
In Montana there are 47 different organizations selling specialty
license plates, said Dean Roberts, administrator of the state's
Motor Vehicle Division. The latest two organizations include
the Bridger Bowl Foundation and Planned Parenthood.
The profits from specialty plates go to nonprofit organizations.
"Between $1 million and $1.5 million has been raised
for charitable organizations," Roberts said. "They
are using that money for good things."
Collegiate plates and military plates outnumber the newer
specialty plates, but the wide-variety of specialized plates,
ranging from Friends of Makoshika State Park near Glendive
to the Montana State Golfers Association, are becoming increasingly
Vehicle owners pay additional money to obtain the plates.
The prices vary. For example, vehicle owners must pay an initial
$35 fee to get a Montana Weed Control Association license
plate, but to have a Museum of the Rockies plate, a driver
has to fork over a $65 fee.
In 2000 Montana's new license plates, which have been called
bland, hit the roads. A year later the Legislature agreed
to offer a greater variety of license plates. Nonprofit organizations
can pay a fee and request specialty plates.
During the last legislative session, lawmakers raised the
fee from $1,200 to $4,000 for an organization to request a
Roberts said the increase in cost has greatly slowed down
the number of organizations applying.
"In the last four or five months we have only had 10
or so," he said.
If an organization fails to sell 400 sets of plates in a
12-month period after three years, they are pulled.
Several organizations are just getting started, Roberts said.
"The people who have these plates really market them,"
Christy Stensland, secretary of the Board of Directors of
the Wolf Point Historical Development Inc., said the Wolf
Point "Cowboy Hall of Fame" plates hit the streets
in November. Money raised goes into the building fund for
the hall of fame.
The Historical Development group is advertising the plates
on a Web site and also marketing them in trade and news publications.
The plates also are on display during fundraising events,
License plate sales are an important funding source, said
Clint Blackwood, director of Montana's Lewis and Clark Bicentennial
He said it's great that the Bicentennial plates are so popular.
Blackwood said because the organization was one of the first
to sell its plates, sales also have been strong.
"I would like to think that it's because people like
the design and have an affinity with Lewis and Clark. It's
part of our ancestry and who we are," he said.
Plate sales have brought in about $442,000, Blackwood said.
In the first couple months of 2004, another $26,470 was raised.
Proceeds are put toward Lewis and Clark projects in the state,
specifically those tied to the bicentennial. The plates only
will be sold through 2007.
There are 58 Great Falls High School license plates on vehicles
cruising the local streets. Great Falls High Principal Fred
Anderson has the distinction of owning Great Falls High plate
On a recent trip down 10th Avenue South, a carload of young
men rolled up next to him and asked if he was the Great Falls
High Principal. He responded yes, and asked how they guessed
"One of the guys said to me, 'Well any idiot could figure
it out reading your license plates'," Anderson said.
"Then he went on to warn me, 'Man, don't take that car
to any cross-town games. You might as well put a bulls-eye
on it,'" said Anderson.
The plates went on sale in the fall, and to date the district
has earned about $1,200 back on its investment, Anderson said.
Proceeds go into the school's activities account.
While Anderson shows his allegiance to Great Falls High,
many in Montana stick with their college colors.
Across the state, the two different Montana Grizzly license
plates outsell Montana State University Bobcat plates. There
are 6,505 University of Montana plates in the state and 3,664
In Cascade County it's a close race. There are 454 University
of Montana plates and 401 Montana State University plates.
There are also special plates for the University of Great
Local governments are getting involved in the license plate
business, as well.
Browning Mayor William Morris said the $2,635 raised from
selling Town of Browning plates goes toward beautification
projects in the community. In February about 40 sets of license
plates sold, he said.
By the end of 2003, there were 75 City of Shelby plates sold,
including one in Lewis and Clark County.
"Sales are picking up more and more as people re-license
their vehicles," said Mayor Larry Bonderud.
Proceeds are shared between the local Booster Club and the
Shelby Chamber of Commerce theme committee
The Booster Club has committed the money to scholarship programs,
he said. The chamber is using the extra cash for community
projects, like a new six-mile walking trail."A lot of
people wonder what they can do to help out in the community,
and this is something real easy they can do," Bonderud
License plate collectors from around the world also have
picked up the plates, he said. And most organizations, including
Shelby, sell wall clocks made from the plates.