Little Bighorn Battlefield Update Summer 2014
By Denice Swanke, Superintendent
It has been a wonderful, busy summer at Little Bighorn Battlefield! It was great to spend time with many of you at the CBHMA pizza party, symposium, and annual meeting as well as at other random encounters over the course of anniversary events.
For me, special highlights of the 138th Anniversary of the 1876 battle included the Arikara Old Scout Society program on June 24, the Indian Memorial rededication on the 25th (especially the remarks by former Superintendent Barbara Sutteer) and the combined CBHMA/U.S. Cavalry School wreath-laying on Last Stand Hill on Sunday, June 29.
Since the anniversary, our park staff have been particularly busy with the following projects:
· broken irrigation lines (one asbestos-cement water line after another ruptured mid-June through July)
· departure of three of our seven maintenance staff (one retirement and two transfers to other parks)
· development of interpretive site bulletins for the Indian Memorial, prairie dogs, and biodiversity
· preservation work in Custer National Cemetery with the Hands on Preservation Experience (HOPE) project from mid-July through mid-August
· initiation of a new forum with nearby cultural resource sites (Pompeys Pillar, Chief Plenty Coups and Rosebud Battlefield state parks, etc.)
· burials in Custer National Cemetery (four in July)
· interpretive programs at the Visitor Center
· finalizing the park’s Foundation Document
· new research requests
With continued gratitude for your support and love of the Battlefield,
Photo caption: The National Park Service rededicated the Indian Memorial at Little Bighorn Battlefield on June 25 to commemorate the installation of permanent interpretive panels that pay tribute to all Native Americans who fought at the 1876 battle. An article on this project appeared in the Summer 2013 issue. Courtesy of Derry Mounce
Courtesy of Joe Creaden
As is clear from the summaries below, the National Monument staff is plenty busy every day keeping this place wonderful.
Preparations are underway for this year’s special events honoring veterans on Memorial Day. We are also beginning to prepare for the Anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. One change that we hope will alleviate congestion on June 25 is a shuttle system operating from a nearby off-site parking area to and from the Battlefield. This system would be in place for the one day only.
Finally, I am excited to tell you that the contract for the permanent engraving of the Indian Memorial is out for bid. We expect it to be awarded early this spring with on-site work completed prior to the Anniversary. Since the consulting tribes and descendent families provided the overall design and content of the Memorial, we are inviting them to share their vision for a re-dedication celebration, which may occur during the Anniversary. I will update as more information develops.
I greatly look forward to meeting the CBHMA members this summer. Whether or not you are able to make it to “LIBI” this year, I want to thank you all for your passion and dedication to the Battlefield!
With kind regards,
Maintenance Division Chief: René Laya
2012 was a challenge for the park’s Maintenance Division. Les Frickle, who had been with the division for over 34 years, retired leaving a large hole in the knowledge base of the park and the division.
In mid-summer our two main water pumps failed about a month apart, leaving us unable to irrigate the cemetery and most of the grounds during the majority of the season, which saw record low rainfall. The result was a very dry (and brown) landscape with many visitor complaints. Once the pumps were repaired, the lawns recovered for the fall season.
The Stone House was repaired with funds remaining from the previous year’s storm damage account. Masonry specialists from the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Training Center in Frederick, Maryland, came to the Battlefield to assist with sub-soil drainage repairs to the basement walls. Drain pipes were reattached, the exterior of the basement wall was re-pointed and a new drain board installed to prevent water from entering the basement. The crew also removed the cast concrete steps on the front porch, poured new footings and re-set the steps. Failing porch mortar joints were removed and re-pointed using the historically correct raised bead joint.
Headstone realignment continued in Section E of the National Cemetery. The staff replaced numerous sprinkler heads, many of which are so old that repair parts are no longer available! New granite section markers will be in place before the Memorial Day weekend.
A new roof was installed on the Visitor Center, two-thirds of which has been repainted to date. Interior storm damage to the walls and floors was repaired and failing concrete replaced. The information kiosk was relocated to a more prominent location. Overgrown juniper bushes that were removed were replaced by a native plant garden.
Visitor and Resource Protection Division Chief: Michael Stops
2012 posed some unique challenges when the wild land fire season started early and fast in late June. The park was never in any real danger but several fires six to twenty miles from the site affected operations because of area road closures. We remained on high alert for the remainder of the summer.
In late fall, additional surveillance cameras were installed at the park’s entrance station and Visitor Center to provide a safer and more secure facility. Security cameras were also installed at the Stone House.
2012 visitation was up 11% with approximately 349,369 visitors compared to 314,870 the previous year. Possible reasons were the improvement of the national economy and lower gas prices.
No major accidents occurred, which might be partly attributed to the fact that we upgraded our alarm monitoring system by installing better detection devices and improved smoke alarms. The park has a very active safety program with monthly safety committee and staff and meetings. Chief Ranger Michael Stops continues to serve as our collateral duty safety officer.
Interpretation Division Chief: Ken Woody
Projects completed over the past year included a new Visitor Center information counter that established a sales station for Western National Parks Association and a dedicated area for “questions and answers” by park staff. The latter doubles as a fee collection station in the off season.
Six podcasts have been added to the park’s website. Developed from our orientation video, Triumph and Tragedy Along the Little Bighorn, these short films create additional educational opportunities for our website visitors. (This well received new film has been shown 3000 times to nearly 46,000 persons.) In addition biographies of important characters associated with the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn are routinely being added to the website.
The interpretive staff presented two talks during 2012: 641 “Battle Talks” and 174 ranger-led “Last Stand Hill Walks” to 48,272 and 5562 visitors, respectively. Junior Ranger programs were completed by 840 children at the park. Nearly 500 students from 17 local schools and three military staff rides (over 50 soldiers) participated in ranger-led tours. Survey data indicated a 96% visitor satisfaction rate with the facilities, recreational opportunities and services.
Cultural and Natural Resources Division Chief: Chris Ziegler
This new management division of cultural and natural resources staff will pool its collective energies to preserve the valuable assets of Little Bighorn Battlefield for posterity. It will play a critical role in plans to return the park’s 150,000 piece curatorial collection, displaced since the 2011 floods.
Documentation is being drafted to help management of the park, including a National Register nomination, Cultural Landscape report, Environmental History and Fire Management plan. Future projects will streamline program compliance, develop exotic vegetation removal plans and improve research of the National Cemetery.
Ties with the affiliated tribes have been strengthened through improved communication that includes a partnership with Little Bighorn College. Resource management staff provides other divisions with the information necessary to perform their duties. It continues to make research materials more accessible to the public, work with White Swan Memorial Library and administer the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).
Exciting information about the progress of efforts to conserve the museum collection temporarily located in Tucson, Arizona, will be forthcoming this summer.
Administrative Division Chief: Dave Marshall
Funding of the administrative staff is shared between Little Bighorn Battlefield and Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. The year has been tremendously challenging in the administrative realm as the NPS and Department of Interior continue the transition to new email and fiscal systems. Many of our software programs are obsolete and daily we learn something about how the new system is supposed to work.
We thank Supt. Swanke and her staff for this comprehensive update that appeared in the Spring 2013 Battlefield Dispatch.