Standing Witness
Devils Tower National Monument: A History
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Chapter X

1991 — Gulf War
1994 — North American Free Trade Agreement goes into effect
1995 — Bombing of federal building in Oklahoma City
1999 — President Clinton acquitted in impeachment trial

IN RECENT YEARS, THE DEBATE OVER THE FUTURE OF THE national park system has intensified. The fire season of 1988, which burned large portions of Yellowstone National Park and adjacent national forests, elevated fire management to a prime concern. Increased criticism of the NPS from Congress, environmentalists, concessionaires, and other groups over the ownership of urban parks, the transfer of national parks to states, management of parks for people rather than animals and plants, park fees, and other issues created tension. Scientists were becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of scientific research in the national parks, the very places which contain some of the most scenic, geologically, and biologically important features. Many were arguing that science had taken a back seat to recreation.

Add to this the fact that each particular park has its own set of features and its own set of unique problems, and the need for the NPS to coordinate with other federal and state agencies, and the public sector, in the management of national parks and the adjacent lands. The balancing act between these demands has become more difficult with each passing year.

The 1990s were a time of much change and transition within the National Park Service as they tried to adhere to the original NPS edict of conservation of "the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife" [1] and "to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations," [2] and tried to incorporate the cultural and recreational needs of the public.

At Devils Tower National Monument, the balancing act resulted in the preparation of a climbing management plan. Over 2,500 climbers signed out in 1991 as climbing to the summit—with climbing on a steady increase, power bolting was banned to protect the Tower and options were being reviewed and outlined in the climbing plan.

American Indians who came to the Tower to hold religious and spiritual ceremonies were beginning to ask for the natural quiet expected in a national park area. When there are climbers on the Tower their voices carry much farther than they would imagine, and the sound of metal on stone as climbers hammer in pitons rings out over the national monument. The clash of the cultural and the recreational demands began to define the Tower management plan.

Superintendent Pierce recorded, in his 1991 report, "The Statement for Management and the Outline of Planning Requirements were revised and approved this year and the Resource Management Plan was entirely rewritten. A number of action plans are being developed to implement the major planning documents." [3]

PIERCE WAS THE Incident Commander at the Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration of Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota, and he was called out to help at the Fiftieth Commemoration of Pearl Harbor at the USS Arizona Memorial in Oahu, Hawaii. Tower employees helping at fires in the Black Hills that required overnight stays and job vacancies at DTNM resulted in staff shortages that had everyone working beyond their designated job description.

The resource management program grew rapidly and continued making improvements at DTNM. The national monument hired a seasonal curator who completed an assessment of all of the Tower artifacts. Restoration work on the historic Visitor Center and Ranger Office stabilized the logs and foundations of the buildings. Forty trees were planted in the campground, and a program implemented to remove hazard limbs from trees in high risk areas. Annual reports were submitted from the deer study. The Tower Trail was rehabilitated in the summer of 1991 to keep it serviceable until money became available to replace it.

Pierce continued on the Board of Directors of the Black Hills, Badlands and Lakes Association and the Devils Tower Tourism Association. Joint projects with those entities, and a number of presentations made by Tower personnel to local organizations, were credited with maintaining the excellent community relationship the national monument enjoyed.

Another wedding on top of the Tower was recorded on September 21, 1991. The couple, Julie and John Preussner, returned for a Tower visit in 2000 from their home in Dundee, Iowa, and wrote a short synopsis of their experiences that autumn day.

With the bride wearing white spandex and a veil, and the groom wearing black spandex and a top hat, they climbed the Tower via the Durrance Route, accompanied by a municipal judge and two witnesses. Once on top, the couple changed into traditional wedding attire—a wedding dress and a tuxedo. Their water supply ran low, as they had sacrificed taking extra water to the top in order to have room to pack a video camera, but they returned safely to ground, and were back at the Visitor Center parking lot just after dark.

MORE THAN HALF of the DTNM staff transferred early in 1992. Pierce began work as Chief Ranger at Olympic National Park in Washington; Deborah Bird arrived in March from Yellowstone National Park for the Superintendent position. Summer employees in 1992 included 21 seasonal staff, four volunteers, and two student interns supplementing the permanent staff of nine.

The resource management division initiated several Tower-oriented research projects in order to prepare for the writing of the Climbing Management Plan (CMP): studies on Tower summit flora/fauna/human disturbance; Tower base vegetation impacts; Tower base litter (garbage) impacts; impacts of bolts and routes on the Tower; and Tower avifauna (the birds of the Tower). Dr. Jeffrey Hanson of the University of Texas-Arlington directed a field school to research the use and perception of the Tower by climbers and American Indians.

Climber registration cards from 1937 (when technical climbing for recreation at the Tower began) to August of 1992 were tallied and summarized. A work group composed of climbers, American Indians, local government, an environmental organization, DTNM and NPS Regional office staff, and members of the public was approved and funded to provide a strategy for writing a Climbing Management Plan.

Other resource management actions included ongoing projects—exotic plant control, trimming hazardous trees in the campground, planting cottonwood trees in the campground and willow trees along the river. Resource monitoring was conducted for gypsy moths, prairie dogs, amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds, small rodents, Belle Fourche River pesticides, weather; the museum and Visitor Center exhibits were checked for humidity and temperature. Research continued on the deer movement and habitat use, with one study documenting how the deer affected the Tower's deciduous trees and shrubs, and a new analysis was started on prairie dog genetics.

A quick response from all divisions of DTNM staff saved the life of Cord Steinmetz on May 29, 1992. Steinmetz fell about 150 feet on the approach to the Durrance Route and sustained critical head and internal injuries. After being treated on the scene by Tower personnel and the Hulett ambulance crew, he was evacuated from the boulder field and flown by military helicopter to Rapid City. He later reported to the Tower that he had made a full recovery from his injuries.

Adjacent landowners, the BLM, and the Wyoming State Land Office had met with the NPS in 1991, and renewed conversations about expanding the national monument boundary. Some progress had been made. A final version of a legislative package was written and hand-carried to the Wyoming delegation by DTNM neighbors. Discussions about a possible boundary expansion continued, with the BLM, the State land office, then Governor Mike Sullivan, and representatives from the State's Congressional delegation participating.

ROCK CLIMBERS FROM the Rapid City, South Dakota, and Gillette, Wyoming, areas helped repair foot trails leading to the climbing routes on the Tower. Thousands of climbers a year traveled the trails, and the approach trails were beginning to erode. Climbers and hikers had also started to wear new paths leading off the trails. Members of Black Hills Climbing Coalition of Rapid City and Northeast Wyoming Climbers Club of Gillette volunteered their help to the NPS on June 26 to repair the approach trails and create ways to reroute traffic off the worn side paths.

On July 4, 1993 Tower employees gave a living history presentation reenacting the 1893 climb of Ripley and Rogers, with the five main characters portrayed by staff—Colonel Ripley, Willard and Dollie Ripley, William and Linnie Rogers. Music by The Sundance Kids, a local old-time-music band, and a talk entitled "Historical Perspective" by Mitch Mahoney completed the program.

In August, six-year-old Eric Peterson from Wallingford, Connecticut became the youngest climber to scale the Tower. He made the Durrance Route climb with his parents, an uncle, and a friend of the family. Eric received a special patch from the Park rangers, assisted them with a lecture on hiking, and signed a few autographs. He also elicited a promise from his parents that his younger brother, 19-month-old Jay, would not be allowed to climb the Tower until Jay was six—Eric didn't mind the record being tied, but he didn't want it broken.

IN 1994, DEB LIGGETT came on board as superintendent, transferring from Everglades National Park in Florida. She played a role in helping to rebuild Everglades after the devastation of Hurricane Andrew. She joked about her first public appearance as the DTNM Superintendent—she was on the back of a donkey, wearing a helmet in a donkey basketball game fundraiser at Hulett.

The Devils Tower Natural History Association had a record $240,000 in sales for 1995, due in part to an improvement and upgrade of the Visitor Center and sales area. They made a cash donation to the national monument, and donated a picturesque new mural of the Tower for the Visitor Center. Liggett felt the working relationship with the History Association business manager was strong and productive to both partners.

LIGGETT BEGAN HER second annual report:

1995 will stand out in our minds as the year when the Climbing Management Plan was successfully implemented. Some would say it was implemented against all odds. The plan heralded the beginning of managing the Tower as both a natural and cultural resource.

Director Roger Kennedy visited the Tower in June, marking only the second time that the Director of NPS has visited the nation's first national monument and for the first time an American Indian was employed within our ranks and told the story of the Tower to our visitors. Angora goats ate leafy spurge, a multi-cultural interpretive program was launched, fire burned where and when it was supposed to, first amendment activities took place to protest the new climbing plan, the sun dance was conducted by Lakota people for the eleventh year in a row, the second climbing fatality in the history of the national monument occurred, the NPS reorganized, and employees suffered the indignity of being furloughed, not once, but twice. Through good and bad, the watch on the frontier of the new Intermountain Field Area never wavered. [4]

The Final Climbing Management Plan (FCMP) set a new direction for managing climbing activity at the Tower. The Tower would now be managed as a significant natural and cultural resource. In fact, the Tower was eligible for inclusion to the National Register of Historic Places as a traditional cultural property.

The NPS would manage the Tower primarily as a crack climbing site, and in a way that would be more compatible with the geology, soils, vegetation, nesting raptors, visual appearance, and natural quiet of the national monument. Climbing management directly related to the Tower's significance as a cultural resource. No new bolts or pitons were to be permitted, so there would be no new physical impacts to the Tower. With an increase from 312 climbers in 1973 to over 5,000 climbers annually, route development and bolt placement continued to accelerate. In 1995 there were about 220 named routes, and approximately 600 metal bolts and several hundred metal pitons embedded in the Tower.

Numerous American Indian tribes revere the Tower as a sacred site, and climbers were being asked to voluntarily refrain from climbing during the culturally significant month of June, the month of the summer solstice. The national monument staff began to include the cultural significance of the Tower in their presentations along with the more traditional themes of natural history and rock climbing.

To quote from the FCMP Addendum: "There are many benefits to the implementation of the FCMP. The environmental consequences of the FCMP will include increased protection for natural resources. No critical habitat for listed species will be negatively affected. Visitor experience will be enhanced by a more diverse and balanced interpretive program. In turn, improved communication and understanding among the national monument's users groups will lead to a greater respect and tolerance for differing perspectives." [5]

Under the new regulations of the FCMP, in June of 1985 there was an 85% compliance with the voluntary closure to climbing. In spite of racist complaint letters and threats of illegal activity, major strides were being made with climbing management.

Relationships between the national monument and its neighbors were sometimes fueled by the anti-federal atmosphere surrounding public land management in the west. An increase in traditional cultural use of the Tower by American Indians and disagreement with the FCMP added to the animosity.

Four additional law enforcement personnel were added to the staff and 24-hour coverage of the national monument was provided during the week of the summer solstice in June of 1995. The Sacred Hoop Run and the sun dance were completed without incident.

The Sacred Hoop Run is a spiritual journey, a 500-mile relay around the Black Hills by Lakota runners, beginning and ending at Bear Butte near Sturgis, South Dakota. A Lakota story describes a well-worn path around the Black Hills, a path that represents the Sacred Hoop, symbolizing wholeness, unity, and the great cycle of life and death.

Under a reorganization plan of the NPS, Devils Tower National Monument staff could, and did, choose to remain in the Intermountain Field Area, and became part of the new Rocky Mountain Cluster. Although related geographically to the other NPS Black Hills units, budget and support issues were the basis for the decision; however, DTNM would continue to share a Fire Management Officer with the Black Hills regional units.

THREE SEARCH AND rescues were conducted during 1995 by Tower staff, one of which involved a fatality. An unroped climber, Jan Hanacek, 22, of Chicago, Illinois, fell 150 feet from the Jump Traverse on the Durrance Route. Other climbers saw him fall, but efforts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.

Sturgis Rally Week was now the busiest week of the year at the Tower. With hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists staying throughout the Black Hills, the national monument played host to thousands of them each day. By working proactively with Rally organizers DTNM hoped to better manage an activity based beyond its boundary, but which had a severe effect on operations at the Tower.

The maintenance division had a busy year. As Liggett recorded in her annual report:

The maintenance division completed the rehabilitation of the visitor center steps and railing, implemented a new sign plan, completed site work for the DTNHA storage building, completed a new VIP [volunteer worker] trailer site, installed new bulletin boards national monument-wide, painted and improved the entrance station, completed a minor renovation of the visitor center interior—and mowed, cleaned, plowed, fixed, figured, repaired, computed, dug, burned and whatever else was necessary to keep national monument operations afloat. The division continues to work minor miracles keeping an aging infrastructure operating and serving park visitors. [6]

Angora goats were grazing on the flowers, seeds and leaves of leafy spurge, an invasive plant, for the second year in a row as part of a cost-share effort with Crook County Weed and Pest Control and two neighboring ranchers. The flea beetle insectary sites in the national monument were harvested and placed on leafy spurge on five adjacent ranches.

A proposal to site an airport adjacent to Hulett and its potential effects on DTNM occupied much of the Tower staffs time. The national monument facilitated formal public comment on the draft Environmental Assessment for the proposed airport. On-going dialogue with Ellsworth Air Force Base resulted in a five-mile flight-free bubble, applicable to all military aircraft originating from the base.

IN 1996 THE NPS was sued in the Federal District Court, alleging constitutional violations as a result of the FCMP. Liggett wrote a recap of the suit's beginnings:

In March 1996, Mountain States Legal Foundation filed suit against the National Park Service on behalf of Tower Guides (Andy Petefish) [Tower Guides was a commercial climbing guide business owned by Andy Petefish], four individual plaintiffs, and Bear Lodge Multiple Use Association alleging that the Final Climbing Management Plan violated their First Amendment rights. A hearing on a preliminary injunction was held in May of 1996.

On June 8, 1996 Judge William Downes issued a preliminary order that granted in part and denied in part the allegations of the plaintiffs. The court ordered the national monument to issue Andy Petefish a commercial use license but upheld all other portions of the plan.

The national monument staff spent major amounts of time compiling the administrative record, preparing declarations, briefing attorneys, and preparing for testimony.

In August of 1996, Plaintiff Petefish started a major campaign on another front, alleging that the national monument was going to the Western States Geographic Names Conference to propose a name change for the national monument. National monument staff was indeed scheduled to attend (and did attend) to make an educational presentation on the national monument name but there was no name change proposal. A contentious public meeting was held at the Devils Tower KOA in August of 1996 and the Wyoming delegation introduced legislation opposing a name change. In September we attended the meeting in Salt Lake City with local, tribal, and NPS representatives and presented all sides of the issue, receiving the compliments of both conference organizers and conference participants.

Also in March of 1996, a consultation meeting was held in Rapid City with 12 tribal representatives and more than 40 American Indians in attendance. The meeting resulted in a resolution to the park superintendent concerning how management of Devils Tower National Monument could accommodate tribal concerns. The NPS acknowledged this as the official position of the tribes and believes that there is room for significant negotiation on all issues raised.

The national monument superintendent has been repeatedly quoted (and not always by admiring audiences) that 'American Indians are at the poker table and they get to play every hand.' The new order of business at the Tower is the climber, neighbors, environmental interests and American Indian people are at the table. Not everyone acknowledges their right or welcomes them to table and thus sometimes it is an exciting ride. [7]

(In 1998 the U.S. District Court upheld the National monument's FCMP. In an April 26, 1999 ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit upheld the National Park Service's accommodations of American Indian religious practices at DTNM. In March of 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the plaintiffs appeal of the Tenth Circuit ruling, thus upholding the appellate court's decision as final.)

THE HISTORY ASSOCIATION voted in major changes to their by-laws to create a larger, more diverse board and removed unilateral control from the Board president, thus assuring Board action on nominations and budget issues. They funded the upgrade of the amphitheatre sound system, provided matching funds for the "Parks As Classroom" grant, funded a new expanded cultural program series, and hired two American Indian contract interpreters. Betty Wilson, the long-time business manager, resigned and Lynn Conzelman was selected to take her place.

Totals from Sturgis Rally Week for 1996 indicated the busiest week in DTNM history, with 2923 vehicles recorded on Wednesday (Wyoming Day) of the rally. The Christian Motorcycle Association volunteered for the entire week at the Tower, parking bikes and picking up trash.

On August 21, Jeff Pettenger, a college senior from Roscoe, Illinois fell to his death while leading a variation of the Baily Direct Summit Route. He was climbing with his father, Noel; they had both summitted the previous day. It was determined that his protection probably failed when a rock slab came loose, and he fell approximately 100 feet to the Jump Traverse Ledge where his father waited. Agencies involved in the extended rescue operation included the NPS, Crook County Sheriffs Department, Hulett Emergency Medical Services, Hulett Clinic, Crook County Mental Health Center, and several climbers. Pettenger's death was the third climbing fatality at the Tower, the kind of statistic no place wishes to tally.

A high school Student Conservation Association work group repaired an unpaved trail, replaced 125 water bars, and cleaned 200 wood or rock water bars. (Water bars are bumps constructed in a trail to help divert water runoff to the sides of the trail at various intervals.) They also repaired 7,500 feet of a paved trail, stabilized the Belle Fourche River overlook, and sealed walkways. Tower staff felt the program was a huge success for everyone.

In the main campground and in the primitive campground thirty-one bur oak and forty-eight cottonwood trees were planted. Five species of shrubs, forty-three plants in all, were planted along the edge of Prairie Dog Town to establish a natural hedge barrier to the colony's expansion.

In 1997, Interpretation became a separate division within the national monument structure. Riley Mitchell was hired as the first Chief of Interpretation at the Tower, in charge of Visitor Center operations and public programming. An outdoor education program with an environmental curriculum for fourth graders was developed by Chase Davies—TOWER: Teaching Opportunities with Environmental Resources.

Liggett partnered Tower personnel with the Bearlodge Writers, a writers group based in Sundance, to offer a writer's residency at the Tower. The NPS provides a small apartment, the History Association gives a small travel stipend, and the Bearlodge Writers jury the works submitted, selecting two winners and two alternates. Two one-week residencies are offered each year, with the selected writers choosing a week in either September or October to live and work in the inspiring and secluded environment of the Tower.

Superintendent Liggett left the Tower on November 11, 1997, to become superintendent of a park in Alaska. Chas Cartwright arrived in March of 1998 to take over superintendent duties.

A 280-acre prescribed fire burned through forest and grassland at the national monument on April 29, 1998. Conducted by the NPS, the Forest Service, and state and local firefighters, this was DTNM's third prescribed fire since approval of the Fire Management Plan in 1993. Preliminary data from the burn indicated that it met all resource objectives, including reduction of the overhead canopy, pole-sized trees, and dead and down fuels. However, a controversy raged after the fire.

As Superintendent Chas Cartwright stated, "The spark that lit the fuse was the burn location." [8] Local people were outraged because blackened trees now marred the primary view of the Tower. Regional and local newspapers published articles highly critical of DTNM management. Some press also added to the discord, printing a few inaccurate stories, one of which portrayed the superintendent as an arsonist.

Soon the Wyoming congressional delegation was involved, demanding further information on the fire. Although the prescribed fire at the Tower met all legal requirements for public notification, local residents felt strongly that not enough information had been published. The experience underscored the importance of using the fire management process to address the visual impacts to be expected from a prescribed fire. Despite intensive efforts by the NPS to publicize the natural role that fire plays in ecosystems—deemed especially necessary since the 1988 Yellowstone fires—the general public is often unwilling to tolerate the effects of this powerful force of nature.

Another climbing fatality on September 11, 1999, added to the somber mood of the late 1990s at the Tower. Richard Harwood of Austin, Texas, fell approximately 130 feet while rappelling off the Wiessner Route. Harwood and his climbing partner apparently misjudged the distance to the next set of anchors and Harwood rappelled off the end of his rope.

Devils Tower at a glance . . .


Superintendent: — William L. Pierce 1991
Deborah Bird 1992-1993
Deb Liggett 1994-1997
Chas Cartwright 1998-2000

Visitors: 4,219,884
Climbers: 48,567
Summits: 17,405

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Last Updated: 23-Jan-2009