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Little Bighorn Battlefield Update Spring 2014

By Denice Swanke, Superintendent





By the time you read this message plans for the 138th Anniversary events at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument will be in place.


The focus of this year’s activities will be the recent completion of the Indian Memorial. I know that you will be pleased with the high quality of the granite engraving that honors warriors from the battle and conveys the message of Peace Through Unity, which was the theme of the 2003 dedication.


This summer the Battlefield will be one of the first National Park Service sites to participate in a new program in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Historic Preservation Training Center. In the spirit of partnership, innovation and resource stewardship commensurate with the significance of the site, these entities are working together to spearhead the Hands On Preservation Experience (HOPE) program at the park.


This exciting program is designed to introduce youth to historic preservation trade skills in order to foster a new generation of artisans in such resource management. Recruitment for these positions will occur through the Corps Network, an association of 127 youth and service corps from across the country and descended from the Depression era Civilian Conservation Corps.


Little Bighorn Battlefield will take advantage of this program to conduct crucial preservation and stabilization activities on the park’s headstones and five monuments within Custer National Cemetery. Bear’s Paw, Fort C.F. Smith and the 7th Cavalry memorials are among those that will be cleaned. They will also receive critical stabilization and repair to address chipping, fragmenting and weathering caused by more than a century of exposure to the elements. The program will also begin a systematic headstone alignment and cleaning program within Custer National Cemetery.


Other harsh environmental conditions have adversely affected these hallowed markers that date from the 1860’s to the present day. Many are heavily iron stained by the water used to irrigate the Cemetery lawn. Most of the headstone rows must be aligned to conform to National Cemetery standards. Not only will the HOPE program begin to address these defects but special crews will also work with park staff to standardize procedures and skills to guide similar future work.


This project is scheduled for four weeks from mid-July to mid-August. In addition to the involved park staff, there will be four journeyman level artisans from the Historic Preservation Training Center and two crews of seven people each from the Montana Conservation Corps, each working two week shifts. MCC personnel will consist of a youth crew (ages 18-25) and a special crew of Armed Forces veterans training for civilian based trade skills.


Finally, I am pleased to share some good news about work on the Battlefield’s archaic, overworked water system. We recently completed our Corrective Action Plan with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. This initiative will bring the park’s drinking water system back to compliance with ground water rules.


In March, we finalized installation of backflow prevention devices and other needed work, which includes the following:


·       disconnecting non-functioning watering system at the Indian Memorial

·       installation of backflow prevention for 7th Cavalry Monument irrigation

·       installation of backflow prevention at Administration Building

·       installation of backflow prevention for the Stone House boiler

·       removal of non-functioning fire pump and capping of lines


By summer we anticipate that the drinking fountains will be on again—they have been off since the summer of 2012 because of the above deficiencies. The maintenance staff will replace the outside drinking fountain at the restroom building with a new frost-free fountain that will include a filter and faucet for filling water bottles. We recently repaired a significant water line break discovered in the Visitor Center parking lot when removal of large snow piles revealed a growing layer of ice.


Although progress on this ongoing issue is certainly a nice change to report, our antiquated water system must be replaced. So, you will likely hear about many more “Band-Aid” repairs while our folks work hard to keep the system functional to irrigate the National Cemetery and to provide potable water. We have worked closely with the regional engineering staff over the past year to develop a comprehensive approach to upgrading the system.


Funding for such an extensive project is not likely to be available for another five years or more but we have clearly identified the park’s critical needs and are now “in line” for funding.


Thank you all for your continued support of the Battlefield.


I look forward to seeing you soon!







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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.