Friends Of The Little Bighorn Battlefield

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

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Superintendent's Message

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By Denice Swanke

Webmaster's Note:  This update was originally published in the Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield Newsletter, May 2013. Read Denice Swanke's special message to Friends members.

As is clear from the summaries below, National Monument staff are 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. One change we hope to try out this year to alleviate congestion on June 25th is a shuttle system operating from a nearby off-site parking area to and from the Battlefield. This would only be in place for the one day. Finally, I am excited to be able to tell you that the contract for the permanent engraving of the Indian Memorial is out for bid. We expect the contract to be awarded early this spring with on-site work completed prior to the Anniversary. Since the overall design and content for the Indian Memorial panels was provided by the consulting tribes and descendent families, we are inviting the tribes and families to share their vision for a re-dedication celebration, which may occur during the Anniversary. I will update you as more information about this exciting event develops.

Maintenance Division Chief: Rene’ Laya

2012 was a challenging year for the Maintenance Division at LIBI. 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 that 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.

A project was done on the Stone House with funds remaining from the previous year’s storm damage account. Masonry specialists from the NPS Historic Preservation Training Center in Frederick, MD came to LILBI to assist with sub-soil drainage repairs to the basement walls. Drain piping was reattached and the exterior of the basement wall was re-pointed and 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 mortar joints on the porch walls were removed and re-pointed using the historically correct raised bead joint.

Headstone realignment continued in Section E of the cemetery. Numerous sprinkler heads were replaced with more modern ones. Many of our sprinkler heads are so old that parts are no longer available for repairs! New granite Section markers were ordered and will be placed this spring prior to the Memorial Day weekend.

The Visitor Center received a complete new roof and about 2/3 of a new paint job. The rest will be finished this spring. Interior storm damage to the walls and flooring was repaired. In addition, the information kiosk was relocated to a more prominent location. Failing concrete was replaced, overgrown juniper bushes removed, and, in their place, a native plant garden was planted.

This winter, the maintenance office has been remodeled with new energy efficient lights being installed, walls and ceiling being repainted, new, energy-efficient windows installed, and furniture relocated.

Upon completion of this work the Facility Management office was relocated from the Administration building to the shop building. House #14 was resided and new energy efficient windows and doors were installed. The former residential coal shed had new doors installed, was resided, and reroofed. This building is now utilized for maintenance storage.

Visitor and Resource Protection Division Chief: Michael Stops

2012 had some unique challenges with local wild land fire season starting fast and early in late June. That affected the park both because of fires nearby, and with surrounding area road closures. The park was never in any real danger but several fires were 6 to 20 miles away throughout the summer. The park remained in high alert throughout the remainder of the summer. In late fall, we installed additional surveillance cameras at the entrance station and visitor center to better provide a safer and more secure facility throughout. Security cameras were also installed at the Stone House.

Visitation for 2012 was up 11% with a total of approximately 349,369 visitors compared to 314,870 the previous year. Possible reasons may have been the overall improvement in the national economy and lower fuel prices.

No major accidents occurred and the park upgraded its alarm monitoring system with better detection devices and improved smoke alarms to better serve our visitors and staff. The park has a very active safety program with staff meeting monthly on various safety topics and a safety committee that meets monthly as well. Chief Ranger Michael Stops continues to serve as our collateral duty safety officer.

Interpretation Division Chief: Ken Woody

The Interpretive Division completed a few projects over the past year which included the completion of a new Visitor Center information counter; and a separate Absaalooke Tours ticket sales counter. The new counter establishes two stations for sales item stations for Western National Parks Association, and a new dedicated area for "questions and answers" for Park Staff, which doubles as a fee collection station in the off season. The interpretive division ranger seasonal staff of six included six one Youth Conservation Corps employee and two Teacher-Ranger-Teachers.

Six more podcasts have been added to the park website this year. The short films or podcasts were developed from "out takes" of our new 25 minute film, "Triumph and Tragedy Along the Little Bighorn", creating additional educational opportunities for website visitors. In addition, more biographies of important characters associated with the battle are being added to the website on a routine basis. If we haven't mentioned it in past, the parks new film, as mentioned above, was finished last spring and has been shown nearly 3,000 times to nearly 46,000 visitors. The new film is very well made and is being well received by visitors.

Interpretive Ranger talks with two different themes were presented in 2012: 641 Ranger "Battle Talks" were presented to 48,272 visitors and 174 Ranger Lead "Last Stand Hill Walks" served 5,562 visitors. Absaalooke Tours, the parks concession bus tours, conducted 559 tours with 6,163 visitors attending. 840 Junior Ranger programs were completed by children visiting the park. Nearly 500 students from seventeen local schools visited the park for Ranger-led tours. Three Military staff rides (over fifty soldiers) visited the park, and participated in Ranger-led tours. Little Bighorn Battlefield visitor survey data indicated a rating of 96% of park visitors satisfied overall with appropriate facilities, services, and recreational opportunities.

Cultural and Natural Resources Division Chief: Chris Ziegler

In October of 2012, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument hired its first Chief of Resource Management. This new division consists of cultural and natural resources staff that will pool their collective energies to preserve the valuable resources of Little Bighorn Battlefield for posterity. The division is critical in the planning of the return of the 150,000 piece curatorial collection, displaced since the 2011 floods.

New documentation is being drafted to help management of the park, including a new National Register Nomination, Cultural Landscape report, an Environmental History, and a new Fire Management Plan. Ties with the affiliated tribes have been strengthened through improved communication and a developing partnership with Little Bighorn College. Future projects will streamline the compliance process for projects, develop an exotic vegetation removal plan, and improve research of the National Cemetery. Resource management staff provides other divisions with necessary information to assist in their duties, and they continue behind-the-scenes efforts to make research materials more accessible to the public. Ongoing work with the library and NAGPRA repatriation continues. Exciting conservation progress continues with museum collection items temporarily located in Tucson. More information will be forthcoming about those efforts this summer.

Administrative Division Chief: Dave Marshall

After spending a couple of years working for the NPS in Kotzebue, Alaska, Dave decided to head south. He joined the LIBI and BICA staff as our new Administrative Officer (AO) in January. The six staff in the Administrative division are jointly funded between both park units and manage their workload accordingly as they help us with various issues from housing to payroll, personnel, and beyond. This has been a tremendously challenging year in the administrative realm as the NPS, along with all of the Department of Interior, continues transitioning to a new fiscal system. Not only that, we also transitioned to a new email system throughout DOI! Many of the software systems we have become comfortable with over the years are now obsolete and every day we learn something about how the new system is supposed to work. Dave and his wife live nearby at BICA, but you’ll generally find him working here at LIBI once or twice each week. And he’ll be the first to tell you how proud and excited he is to be working for battlefield!

Western National Parks Association (WNPA) Site Manager: Charles Carroll

Charles joined the LIBI team in late November. He brings extensive retail experience and is excited about continual improvements to the bookstore offerings and experience. Charles and the WNPA team are gearing up for a great summer with a real focus on customer experience. This winter they have enhanced our collection of children's educational items and updated the inventory with new items to give our visitors more to choose from. The bookstore is also developing a collection of new sale items based on the Bison, including a buffalo robe and an awesome hat!

May 2013

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