Montana Magazine is folding after nearly 50 years of publishing stories and stunning images of the state’s people, geography, history and culture, owner Lee Enterprises announced.

“Unfortunately, the dynamics of the publishing business have changed and the magazine has reached the end of its distinguished run,” general manager Matt Gibson wrote to subscribers on Tuesday.

Rick Graetz founded the magazine in 1970 because, he said, “I just knew Montana needed a magazine.” He sold it to Lee Enterprises in 1994 and said Wednesday he was disappointed with the decision to stop publishing.

The final issue, out soon, is a retrospective that includes “several really great stories that have appeared over the 48-year life of the magazine,” said David McCumber, editor of Montana Magazine and The Montana Standard, who once founded a competing magazine. He has edited the final five issues of Montana Magazine.

There’s a past story by Frank Craighead, a pioneer bear researcher in Yellowstone National Park, who wrote about putting the first radio collar on a grizzly bear and another piece that profiles Montana native and western author Ivan Doig.

Graetz has an essay in the final edition called “This is Montana,” that is illustrated with photos by Graetz and his wife Susie Graetz.

“The magazine certainly paid homage to Montana’s history and scenic beauty, outdoor culture, ranch culture and the many great characters that make up Montana,” McCumber said. “There was never any shortage of wonderful material to go in the magazine.”

However, it had become more difficult to sell enough ads, which McCumber said was a reflection of the magazine market as a whole.

The final issue’s cover is an image of a cowgirl leading a horse back to a barn at sunset. It was shot by Todd Klassy of Havre, who has contributed photos since 2010.

“I’ve been blessed,” to be published in the magazine, Klassy said.

“I have the last photo on the cover of the magazine and I have the last photo that appears on the last page of the magazine,” he said. “I’d much rather not have any photos in the magazine and have it succeed and continue publishing.”

The magazine initially had a strong circulation in the state, Graetz said, based on door-to-door sales by school groups raising money.

Subscriptions became a popular Christmas gift for those who moved away, as well.

“I think a lot of people used it to maintain their connection with Montana,” McCumber said. “People who were living away temporarily or had moved elsewhere but kept Montana in their hearts.”

“It’s just a part of the Montana experience. It’s going to leave a big hole behind,” said McCumber, who has been hearing from heartbroken subscribers.

McCumber started a competing magazine, Big Sky Journal, which has been in circulation for 25 years.

“Even though my first professional association with Montana Magazine was as a competitor, I’ve always respected and loved it,” McCumber said. “It’s particularly saddening to be the last editor of a great magazine.”

Gibson’s letter to subscribers thanked loyal readers and said they would be refunded the balance for their unfulfilled subscriptions.

Lee Enterprises also shut down the Missoula Independent newspaper this month, less than 18 months after purchasing the paper from Gibson.