Friends Of The Little Bighorn Battlefield

The Next Generation In The Study Of Custer's Last Stand

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Denice Swanke: Message to Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield Membership


May 20113 -- Special message to Friends members from Superintendent Denice Swanke that appeared in our May 2013 newsletter.

It's hard to believe that I've been here seven months already! Reflecting back on when I first arrived in mid-October, despite sounding cliché', it really felt like a home-coming. It is breathtaking to be back in "Big Sky" country with such amazing scenery, sunrises and sunsets. One thing I was particularly fortunate in was to be able to live here at the battlefield while looking for housing in Hardin. I especially remember the delight of frost on trees, fresh snowfall, and becoming acquainted with our resident rabbits and sharp-tailed grouse while walking through the cemetery and down the Deep Ravine trail. In mid-March I moved into a house that my husband and I were able to purchase in Hardin. While we have decided to keep our Paradise Valley home, I feel fortunate to have a place near the Battlefield, and am enjoying getting to know the area.

As you know, the LIBI staff are fantastic, and it has been wonderful to see them in action. Probably the work I am most proud of to date involves the National Cemetery. We have taken a hard look at myriad cemetery management issues. A dedicated handful of staff are working diligently to resolve long-standing concerns. Several new headstones will be placed this spring, including some to correct name spellings and a remedy a backlog of headstone orders. Despite being a "closed" cemetery, we continue on a pace of about 12 burials per year for persons with existing reservations. Plans are being developed to conserve monuments within the cemetery, enhance our GIS and provide better historical records for the cemetery. This longer term effort will allow us to provide more robust and easily accessible information and interpretive services and will continue at least into 2015.

Water issues remain at the top of our priorities. Special thanks to Friends for helping to cover costs of the drinking water provided to staff and residents this summer! Early in May we hired a contractor to clean our two water tanks using specialized divers. This is a key step towards improving our drinking water quality. We anticipate complying with needed repairs to the system this spring, as required by the MT DEQ. Hopefully that means our drinking fountains will be back on in time for the Anniversary.

Wow, what a reading list I have for this place, it is several pages long at this point! Thanks to those of you, including park staff, who have made so many great recommendations. So far I have only made my way through a small number of items beyond the NPS' Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument Handbook. This popular small booklet is an item that sold out in the Visitor Center last summer and one that we are having a number of problems with getting re-printed. Our new WNPA bookstore manager is working a couple of different angles to try to get the Handbook back in stock this summer. In addition to most of the wonderful articles on the Friends' website, I have enjoyed Stricken Field and Rubbing Out Long Hair, and am looking forward to Uncovering History and Son of the Morning Star later this summer.

Finally, I want to assure you that I, and many others, are working on several fronts to bring the museum collections back from Arizona once necessary conservation work is complete. This is the number one priority that I was tasked with by the Regional Director when I accepted this position. And I hope to have more information to share with you soon about what how we might do this.

I know that Anniversary events will be a bit hectic, especially as I weave my way through this first year, but I look forward to meeting many of you this June!

With kind regards,

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