GREAT FALLS — It’s not quite rain or shine, and even Luke Skinner admits he’ll probably have to pack it in for the season soon as the days get shorter and the Montana weather gets harsher - but even on one November morning, the snow on the ground and the sub-freezing temperatures were no match for his message.
Skinner works the graveyard shift at Extended Stay America in Great Falls. At 7:00 a.m. he gets off work, and by 7:30 a.m., he at the top of Warden Park near "Flag Hill."
“From 7:00 a.m. to 7:30, I walk from the hotel through Oddfellows Park on the River’s Edge Trail, loop around up to the top of Warden Park,” Luke explained. “Then from 7:30 to 8:00, I’m up there just carrying the banner, waving the flag, letting people who can see it in the distance. It’s usually an hour, every day, 62 times.”
That’s how many times Luke has made the trek since he began his endeavor back in June when he decided that it was time for action. Motivated by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the ensuing protests, he wanted to attend one of a number of rallies in Great Falls. Not just Black Lives Matter rallies, but Back The Blue rallies in support of law enforcement, too. He wanted to lend his support to several groups that he thought deserved it. As the rollercoaster that has been 2020 stretched on, that group grew to include victims and families of victims that had died from COVID-19. Inspired by his father’s service in the Vietnam War, his message is also for veterans and their families.
While the message he’s sending may not be loud, it is clear. “It’s been a terrible ordeal that we’ve been going through this year, everybody across the country and I figured I have to raise awareness in some way, shape, or form,” said Skinner. “I’m hoping that maybe in the future, when the pandemic has been dealt with and we’re getting back to our daily lives in a more profound sense, that maybe people will take a day, once a year, and maybe do a memorial walk or they’ll do a memorial service at one of these parks.”
When Luke arrives at the top of Warden Park, roughly one mile from the doors of Extended Stay, where his journey begins, he lifts two symbols that he carries with him each trip. In one hand, an American flag. For some, as fitting a symbol of hope that there is. In the other, a trademarked logo, a nod to his own life and creativity.
The walks were certainly easier in the summer weather when he started in June, but Luke’s goal was to get 61 walks in before Election Day on November 3rd. He hit 61 on November 2nd.
“With being awake at night at work and sleeping during the day, I was missing out on the rallies,” he said. “I couldn’t come out and speak. So, the mornings after work were my best time to get out here and really do something that was different, something that would catch people’s attention.”
And he has attracted some attention from some Great Falls residents who are also up to see the sunrise. He says he’s had people come up to him during his walk and take pictures. While we walk up the snow-covered sidewalk, he tells me that sometimes cars will honk their horns in support. Not long after, a school bus driver also obliges. Perhaps the driver recognizes Luke from driving that bus route past him every morning.
“I decided to turn this into a new symbol for hope, that’s what the banner and waving the flag is about, because we could always use new symbols of hope,” said Luke. “I’m hoping to turn my trademark into a new symbol of hope because there’s always room in the world for some new positive symbols of hope.”
Luke says he’s always welcome to people joining him on his walk, just as I did. It was cold, but the sunrise over the city as Luke waves his flag makes it easy to understand why he chose Warden Park for his display.
“Weather is going to be getting cold for the next four months, but if some people want to brave it, I could be open for that,” he said with a smile. “I’m hoping, maybe once a year, there’s going to be something like this, maybe on a grand scale. We’re going to hopefully come together in the future and come out of this stronger than we were before.”