New Billboard Demands Zinke Answer Veterans’ Questions on Status of Long-Awaited Park

Ten Years after Zinke Promised a Veterans Peace Park, Site is Still Vacant and is Part of an Interior Inspector General Investigation into Zinke’s Shady Real Estate Deal

Today, Vet Voice Foundation announced a billboard near Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s hometown of Whitefish, Montana, demanding that Zinke explain what happened to the peace park he promised veterans ten years ago. The site of the long-awaited veterans peace park remains an undeveloped lot, and Interior’s inspector general recently opened an investigation into Secretary Zinke after it was discovered that his family foundation is helping a developer backed by the chairman of Halliburton develop the land that had originally been set aside for the park.

The billboard, located just outside of Columbia Falls, Montana, on the eastside of HWY 206 near the corner of HWY 2, will stay up through December and urges Montanans to join Vet Voice in demanding answers from Ryan Zinke on the fate of the veterans park.

VVF Zinke Billboard

“Ten years ago, Ryan Zinke promised the people of Whitefish a park to honor veterans. Today, all we have is an undeveloped lot and a big scandal,” said Garett Reppenhagen, Rocky Mountain Director of Vet Voice Foundation. “If Secretary Zinke is really committed to honoring veterans, then he owes them an explanation as to why the development of the park has not progressed beyond an undeveloped lot. We urge him to assure the veterans community that the park will be used as a public use space, and not sold off to a private developer to enrich his own family.”

In 2008, after receiving donated land from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railway, Ryan Zinke promised the city of Whitefish a Great Northern Veterans Peace Park. Zinke described the “theme” of the park, which was supposed to be a community gathering place, as a place “to celebrate life - why veterans fight.” However, the park never materialized. Instead, for the past ten years, the empty lot has languished as a vacant site and neighbors have even complained that the site attracts “drinking and unruly behavior.”

The “Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation,” the nonprofit foundation Zinke created to help facilitate the creation of the park, is now chaired by Zinke’s wife, Lola. Interior’s inspector general opened an investigation into Secretary Zinke after it came to light that Lola Zinke “pledged in writing” to help a developer backed by the chairman of Halliburton develop land that had originally been set aside for the veterans park for a commercial development.

This whole situation raises series ethics questions: not only is Halliburton an oil and gas corporation that drills on the public lands Zinke oversees as Interior Secretary, but if the development comes to fruition the property values of nearby land that the Zinkes own would likely increase in value.

“Regardless of the ongoing investigation and the sweetheart land deal with an oil chairman, Secretary Zinke and his foundation made a promise to Veterans nearly a decade ago, yet all we’ve seen is scandal,” said Reppenhagen.  

The Great Northern Veterans Peace Park in Whitefish was Ryan Zinke’s only experience overseeing a public park before he started serving as Interior Secretary in March 2017.