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TOP STORY: MONTANA SHOWS THE STARTUP OF 100 SMALL QUARRIES.
 
Popular material: Builder Jim Smyth’s home near Bozeman, Mont., incorporates natural stone in the exterior. As construction material in the United States, rock has seen a rebirth during the past five to seven years, said Thomas Dolley, a commodities specialist for the U.S. Geological Survey.
 

Growing demand for rock during the next five years and reports substantial Imports.

Trend toward stone in houses, commercial structures helps fuel surge in production.

Paul Chambers' quarry at the base of the Cabinet Mountains is a hard-rock bazaar. Choose your look: Smooth slabs? Stackable stones? How about some football-size rock ornaments?

In the hands of designers, the rock will become garden tables, waterfall spillways, rustic fireplaces or exterior facades. Chambers and his customers see those and more in the stone his crew extracts and moves to the outdoor showroom.

He is in a growth industry. State records in Montana show the startup of 100 small quarries in the last seven years. Robust construction in parts of the West and a design trend toward stone in houses, commercial buildings and landscaping largely get credit for the surge. "There is an increasing interest in longevity and in good, simple materials," said Bill Valentine of the American Institute of Architects. "In general, stone fills that bill."

Robin McCulloch, research-mining engineer at the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology in Butte, put stone in his home's interior. "In a land of cookie-cutter houses, Sheetrock and paint, there's some individualism that comes with rock," McCulloch said. As construction material in the United States, rock has seen a rebirth during the past five to seven years, said Thomas Dolley, commodities specialist for the U.S. Geological Survey.

Domestic production of what the industry calls dimension stone -- distinguished from crushed rock -- rose about 19 percent from 2001 to 2005, the USGS found. It predicts growing demand for rock during the next five years and reports substantial imports, with Italy the leading source.

Indiana going on top

There were about 35 producing states in 2005. Indiana led production, followed by Wisconsin, Georgia, Vermont and Massachusetts. Montana stone includes the Thompson Falls area's quartzite and shale, and in some other places, sandstone.

Chambers, who ships part of his rock and uses some in Thompson Falls houses that he builds, said Montana has a mystique that is part of the market appeal for his stone. He finds the states name a boost. People associate it with ruggedness and authenticity, he said.

At his Montana Solid Rock Quarry, Chambers has rock-washing equipment and a scale that can weigh 20,000 pounds. Montana has quarries where rock is blasted, and simpler enterprises that put people on private ranches to pick stones from the ground. Regulations aim to control environmental effects such as the disturbance of streams and wetlands from removal of rock. Large proposals require environmental impact statements.

 
 
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