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Bra Fence Raises Tempest in a C Cup

HELENA, Mont. [AP] – Frank Cooper and Shirley Cleary have their bras back.

About 20 bras and lacy underthings were seized by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The unmentionables had been hanging from a barb wire fence on the couple’s property.

Officials said some people might find the bra fence offensive and that it was a nuisance near a state managed fishing site along the Missouri River.

Cooper and Cleary saw a bra fence in New Zealand and thought one in Montana would be cool. They held a “Beer, Brat and Bra Bust” at the family’s cabin in July.

Friends provided bras of various descriptions. But two days after the bra bash, fish and game officers cut down the underwear.

Officials have now agreed the couple can hang the bras, providing they block the view of the fence with trees or other screening.

Back Story: Talk about busted. About 20 bras recently were cut off a fence between Frank Cooper and Shirley Cleary’s property and the Stickney Creek fishing access on the Missouri River, after Fish, Wildlife and Parks employees decided the “bra fence” posed an “attractive nuisance.”

The Cooper/Cleary family didn’t take this lightly, and what started as a tempest in a C cup evolved to a First Amendment free speech and property rights issue.

“With all the freedoms vanishing today and all the government regulations that are part of the Patriot Act, this just seemed like another aggressive move on the part of the government,” Cooper said from his Helena home on Friday. “The government is infringing on our freedom of speech.”

The flap over the bra fence began in July, when the Cooper/Cleary family decided to host a “Beer, Brat and Bra Bust” party at their Missouri River cabin. They got the idea of a bra fence when they were traveling in New Zealand and saw these colorful tourist attractions, some with up to 1,000 undergarments on them.

‘They had everything from lingerie to panties to long johns on them,” Cooper said. “We decided it would be fun to do that here in Montana.”

The idea got a lot of support from their friends, and about 25-30 people showed up, with the women bringing red bras, flowered ones, and little black lacy things. Cooper even had three bras from New Zealand to dress up his barbed-wire fence.

“We’re talking people 50 to 83 years old, all respectable citizens, like attorneys, social workers, retired professors,” Cooper said. “We drank a little wine, ate a few brats and christened the bra fence.

“When we hung the bras – we had a friend who was like a town crier – I said ‘Hear ye, hear ye, let this be a sister memorial to the Cadrona bra fence on the plains of New Zealand. To all the participants that donated bras, and to their former contents, I would only suggest: Hang in there.’ ”

Cleary said they hoped that over time, as people floated past their cabin, they’d be inspired to add to the bra fence.

“We called it a bra ca da bra,” she said with a sly smile.

Cooper noted that most of the people using the fishing access ramp seemed amused by the bra fence, with some even getting their photo taken by it.

But two days after the party, all the bras disappeared while Cooper was out taking a walk. He asked some people camping at the fishing access about their removal, and was told that a FWP maintenance man cut them down with a razor. The man apparently considered the bras to be “litter” that needed to be cleaned up.

Cooper made some calls to FWP headquarters in Great Falls, and told them he wanted the bras replaced. About half an hour later, an FWP game warden showed up.

“He told me they were offensive and a public nuisance, and he was going to prosecute me,” Cooper said. “He refused to listen to me, so I said I was going to talk to someone important.”

Cooper went straight to the top, and sat down with FWP Director Jeff Hagener and FWP Chief of Enforcement, Jim Kropp.

In a letter recounting the meeting, Hagener writes that a formal investigation of the bra fence was undertaken, including a survey to determine whether the fence really was on Cooper’s property or if it was on the fishing access property’s boundary line – a survey Cooper said cost about $2,000 and resolved that the fence in fact was on his land.

On Friday, Kropp said that he wasn’t aware of the survey’s costs or results. However, he said that at least one couple who were camped at the Stickney Creek access were offended by the display.

“We manage those sites for multiple uses and get all types of people, as well as sportsmen, from all walks of life and different ethnicities,” Kropp said. “We didn’t feel that this activity was appropriate for a public site.”

In his letter, Hagener added that “As I stated during our discussion, FWP also believes that the ‘bra fence’ will attract many more objects than just bras and become an even greater attractive nuisance and become more offensive to more people and create a greater overall cleanup problem at the FAS. … If you insist on continuing to utilize and promote this fence as a ‘bra fence,’ FWP will continue to remove items hung on the fence until we are able to construct some type of screen …”

The meeting, and Hagener’s follow-up letter, only offended Cooper further.

“This started out as a fun thing, but I asked him in his office if his people were turning into the bra police instead of enforcing fishing and hunting regulations,” Cooper said. “What really got me was in his letter, Hagener said they would install some kind of barrier between my fence and their property, and if I vandalized it they would pursue legal action. I found that particularly offensive since they visited that on me, by taking my property off of my fence.”

He also learned that the game warden had taken his findings to the Lewis and Clark County Attorney to see if they would prosecute Cooper for creating a public nuisance or some other charge. No charges have been filed and none are pending, according to County Attorney Leo Gallagher.

One uplifting note for Cooper and Cleary was that their friends at the party offered their support, saying that they would bind together to fight any legal action.

Hagener also suggested that Cooper contact Mike Aderhold, the Region 4 supervisor who oversees the area where the bra fence was created. Cooper said he finally found an understanding ear in Aderhold, and they’ve worked out an arrangement.

On Friday, Aderhold acknowledged that the situation got out of hand.

“It was something that when I first heard about it, it was funny,” Aderhold said. “Then it started taking this serious turn and even lawsuits were threatened. I thought ‘Oh man, we don’t need to go in that direction if we don’t have to.’ So we agreed that Frank was mad about his First Amendment rights, and … that he could put the bras back on the fence for a period of time, then he will take them down and we’ll so some things to make that a better fishing access site, like plant some native trees down there and share the costs.

“Fortunately, the genesis of this was all in fun and it got back to that in the end.”

The tempest defused, two FWP employees recently showed up on Cooper and Cleary’s doorstep, holding a black garbage bag filled with about 20 of the confiscated brassieres.

With his property returned – although damaged, since one strap of each bra was sliced to get it off the fence – Cooper and Cleary plan to return to the river this weekend and restore the bra fence. After they’re up for a few days, the couple will move the bras to a less conspicuous spot until the screen is erected.

“I wanted them sewn back together, because they did vandalize them,” Cleary said. “If they had damaged something on their property, they would want us to pay restitution.

“But I guess it’s good in a way – there were some old ladies checking out the sizes, so at least with the split straps it will keep somebody from ripping them off.”

The couple also encourages anyone who feels the urge to contribute to add a bra to their fence.

“Maybe if we have enough support, Fish, Wildlife and Parks won’t be so inclined to prosecute me,” Cooper said with a grin.



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