Standing Witness
Devils Tower National Monument: A History
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Chapter XI

2001 — Terrorist attacks on World Trade Center and Pentagon
2002 — Department of Homeland Security created
2003 — Space Shuttle
Columbia disaster
2005 — Chicago White Sox wins World Series—first time since 1917
2006 — Devils Tower National Monument Centennial

WHEN THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE WAS ESTABLISHED in 1916 it became responsible for the fourteen national parks and twenty-one national monuments then in existence. In 2006, it oversees 390 parks: historic sites, parks, trails, areas; war memorials; national monuments; preserves; battlefields; lake and sea shores; recreation areas; islands; and wild rivers. The areas it manages are as varied as the America it serves.

That diversity is the backbone of the NPS, but it also makes system-wide mandates difficult to supervise. What might work to control issues at a coastal park may not work for a mountainous area, and probably would not address issues inherent to a landlocked park.

In November of 2001, the final General Management Plan (GMP) for Devils Tower National Monument was issued. Its purpose was to help managers of the national monument make decisions about development, visitation, and natural and cultural resources over the next 15 to 20 years. A few of the major issues facing the Tower staff are: vehicle congestion, crowded facilities, limited orientation and interpretation, and protecting the rural character of land outside national monument boundaries.

The GMP describes and analyzes five alternatives, beginning with Alternative 1, called the no-action alternative, with the other four offering various changes, including pedestrian plazas, relocation of buildings, a new prairie dog viewing area, staging areas, and a shuttle system to move visitors throughout the national monument. The potential environmental consequence of each alternative is discussed, and other adverse effects of each management plan are detailed. The GMP also tried to address the degradation of natural systems, changing regional land uses, and the conflicts among various user groups.

THE TOWER STORYBOX gives visitors to the national monument a chance to answer the question, "What does the Tower mean to you?" People are encouraged to share their written thoughts, poems, stories, and essays about the Tower. To kick off the Storybox project, the Bearlodge Writers were invited to take a ranger-guided tour around the Tower Trail, spend the afternoon writing at the picnic shelter, and submit their edited works to the Storybox. Copies of selected works were displayed at the Visitor Center, and other pieces were compiled in notebooks to be read by visitors. The Tower Storybox is an ongoing, interactive project.

Prairie Dog Town continues to be a popular attraction at DTNM, giving visitors an up-close exposure to a wild animal. Members of the black-tailed prairie dog colony are enchanting as they eat, play, groom themselves, and warn each other of perceived danger. Distinctive vocal patterns of the prairie dog "bark", a high-pitched squeak, are associated with specific threats to the colony. Named "little dogs" by early French travelers, these highly-social animals are a rodent, closely related to ground squirrels, chipmunks, woodchucks, and marmots.

Living in a restricted area between the Tower and the Belle Fourche River, the number of prairie dogs the Tower colony can support is based on several environmental factors, including predators, weather changes, availability of edible plants, and disease. The entrance road into DTNM running through the prairie dog town is also a hazard to this particular colony.

DTNM prairie dog town with the entrance road and the Tower in the background. (Devils Tower National Monument)

Prairie dogs are native to the Great Plains area, once ranging from northern Mexico to southern Canada. Their burrows are dangerous for horses and livestock, and for a time many people believed that the prairie dogs were competing with cattle for food. (Superintendent Hartzell recalled his agreement with local ranchers: "You raise your cattle outside the monument, we'll raise the prairie dog inside.") [1]

Elimination of prairie dog predators in recent history, mainly the black-footed ferret but also coyote and fox, contributed to the overpopulation of prairie dogs, which in turn led to an extensive poisoning program throughout the West. Today, prairie dogs are found mainly in protected areas within state and national parks and monuments. Management of the prairie dogs at the Tower has changed over the years—the staff no longer kills rattlesnakes and other predators, recognizing their value to the national monument ecosystem.

The changing economics and development patterns in the West threaten the traditional ranching lifestyle in the area, and increase the potential for development on lands adjacent to the national monument. Much of the allure of the Tower is its rural, rustic setting in the forested hills.

Chas Cartwright accepted a position at Dinosaur National Park, leaving the Tower in January of 2002. Lisa Eckert moved from Knife River Indian Villages National Historical Site in June, 2002, to serve as Tower superintendent.

The new Hulett Municipal Airport, located nine miles from the national monument, may affect the natural quiet and viewshed at the Tower. Airport planners predicted nearly 10,000 takeoffs and landings per year, most concentrated in the summer months. A computer analysis of the viewshed indicates that night lighting at the airport could be visible from inside the national monument grounds.

Several years of interagency and public cooperation were spent in planning the airport, which opened in October of 2003. During the site selection studies, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a "No Effect Determination" [2] regarding the airport's activities and any effect those activities might have for DTNM. The final assessment found that the Tower was outside the airport's area of potential effect, and that airport operations would not affect the characteristics of DTNM which make it eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

Designed to increase community and agency acceptance of the airport and to alleviate NPS concerns, the Hulett Airport Advisory Board (HAAB) agreed to some cooperative actions. One is the voluntary minimum two-mile no-fly advisory zone around the Tower, with a three-mile zone to be considered for the month of June, when most American Indian traditional ceremonies are held. The zone would be based on the center coordinates for DTNM. The HAAB also agreed to direct approach and takeoff traffic away from the Tower. Beacon shielding, noise monitoring, and exhibits on cultural awareness to be displayed at the airport's main building were among other cooperative actions.

THE DTNM HAS been collecting data for many years, compiling, documenting, and collating material for use in NPS objectives. In 2001, the national monument entered into a more comprehensive study to accumulate baseline inventory data of vertebrates and vascular plants on park land. Thirteen parks in the Northern Great Plains Network would take part in a study plan to fulfill the directives of the National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998. The Act required parks to have a program of inventory and monitoring of resources that would help provide information on long-term trends in the condition of those resources, and encourage the use of science to make management decisions.

Mountain and plains species meet at the Tower, in the ecological mix distinctive to the Black Hills. Of great concern to the national monument, for the purposes of this study, were the invasion of non-native plants and the loss of natural regeneration of cottonwoods and willows along the Belle Fourche River.

Jim Cheatham, Chief of Resource Management at DTNM, is working to identify data gaps, cataloguing known resources at the Tower, and determining what to monitor to create an early warning system for environmental health. The riparian areas at the Tower are of concern—Cheatham has tried to get funding to rehabilitate the sections of river within his jurisdiction.

In March of 2005 the "Northern Great Plains Exotic Plant Management Plan and Environmental Assessment" became the current management tool for the exotic plants (designated as noxious weeds by the State of Wyoming) on national monument grounds—leafy spurge, Canada thistle, houndstongue, common mullein, Russian thistle, biennial thistles (Scotch, musk, and bull), cheatgrass, smooth brome, Kentucky bluegrass, and tumbling mustard.

Four rustic historic structures at the DTNM were listed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 7, 2000. They are the Old Administration Building (Visitor Center), the Custodian's Residence (Ranger Office), Fire Hose House/Shed, and the Entrance Station. In 2004, a "Historic Structure Report and Historic Structure Assessment" of the four buildings was prepared by Cheatham, along with others working within the NPS system. This report documented the architecturally significant features of the structures, identified changes to the structures, evaluated and assessed the current condition of the buildings, and made recommendations for preservation treatment.

A new Fire Management Plan went into effect in 2004, replacing one in use since 1991. Prescribed fires continue to be used as an appropriate tool to meet resource objectives. As NPS management planning becomes more science-based and proactive, fire management assumes a role of greater importance. It serves as a detailed program of action, providing specific guidance and procedures for accomplishing national monument objectives.

The first fee at the Tower, instituted in 1939, was $.50 a vehicle. The latest increase in the basic entrance fees at DTNM came into effect in January 1, 2004—the fee for private vehicles rose to $10, with a $5 fee for pedestrians, bicycles, and motorcycles. As a participant in the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program since its inception in 1997, DTNM is allowed to keep eighty percent of the revenue generated at their entrance station. These monies have been used to resurface the three-mile park road, patch and seal the Tower Trail, design and construct new Visitor Center displays, and rehabilitate the interior of the 1930s-era Visitor Center and the exteriors of all the historic log buildings at the Tower.

The issue of fees—the question of whether or not visitors to national parks and monuments should pay "per use" fees or if the expense of the national parks and monuments should be paid by the general taxpayer—has been an ongoing debate since the first visitor fees were levied at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state in 1908. Other parks followed with their own car fee collections, monies that were considered justified to help with the cost of building roads in national park areas.

TECHNICAL CLIMBING AT the Tower continues to draw people from all over the world. Considered one of the finest traditional crack climbing areas in North America, routes on the Tower range from 5.7 to 5.13 in technical difficulty, although many climbers consider some of the older routes harder than the original ratings imply.

In late March 2006, the review and update of the 1995 Climbing Management Plan (CMP) was completed. Primary elements of the CMP Update are an improved climber education program, revision of safety standards, and completion of maintenance on the climbing access routes.

The dedicated climbing registration office, new in 2005, will continue to be staffed with climbing rangers to provide information and service to climbers. A climber education video planned for release in 2007 is designed to increase climber awareness of safety, resource effects, and the Tower's cultural significance, as is the redesigned climber registration permit.

Climbers on the southwest corner of the Tower (Devils Tower National Monument)

Commercial climbing guides, who offer climbing services from businesses based outside the national monument, are permitted by the NPS to conduct guided climbs on the Tower. They will now be required to show certification by an organization that trains and tests guides for competency, such as the American Mountain Guides Association, and several revisions have been made to the commercial guide permits.

Other portions of the 1995 CMP remain in effect: the June voluntary climbing closure, bolt replacement and hammers allowed, but no new bolting or power drills. Temporary route closures are made as needed, most notably for the prairie falcon nesting sites on the west face of the Tower.

Currently, there is no registration fee, but all visitors scaling the Tower or climbing above the boulder field are required to register before and after climbing each day. The information gathered is added to the historical database of climbing records at DTNM, which has been maintained since Wiessner's climb in 1937.

From a peak of over 6,000 climbers in the 1990s, the average number of climbers in recent years has been around 5,000 annually, with approximately 2,000 of that number reaching the summit of the Tower. Since 1937, the Tower has had a climber reach the top over 50,000 times. There is risk in climbing the Tower, but that risk is minimized by the proper use of climbing and safety equipment and some knowledge of technical climbing.

On May 17, 2003, Jacqueline Weimer sustained fatal injuries after falling while rappelling adjacent to the El Cracko Diablo climbing route on the Tower. She and her climbing partner had just completed the Soler Route and rejoined three friends on the Meadows, the grassy ledge on the south face of the Tower. They decided to all rappel together, and Weimer was the last to descend. Several factors were determined to have contributed to the accident, including the extreme length of the rappel, the absence of blocking knots tied at free rope ends, and uneven rope lengths on the double rope rappel. Weimer lost control of one rope and it slipped through her rappel device. Hers is the fifth recorded climbing fatality at DTNM.

In 2005, Superintendent Eckert revived an idea for dual-names for DTNM first proposed by Superintendent Liggett in 1996, calling the Tower "Bear Lodge National Historic Landmark", but keeping the existing Devils Tower National Monument name, as well. U. S. Congresswoman Barbara Cubin introduced a bill to prevent any name change, responding to opposition to the additional name. Similar disagreements are being seen throughout the country at monuments, lakes, and mountains, as government agencies strive to recognize the cultural and historical attributes of sites by renaming, or dual-naming, national landmarks.

Two major leadership roles within DTNM changed hands during the centennial year of 2006. After Superintendent Eckert moved to a NPS position in New York in November 2005, Dorothy Fire Cloud, a member of the Rosebud Sioux, arrived in June 2006 to become DTNM's first American Indian caretaker. Linda Tokarczyk began work with the History Association in July, and took over as Business Manager when Lynn Conzelman retired in October.

Several special events were held at DTNM throughout the 2006 summer season in celebration of the national monument centennial, culminating in a commemoration ceremony on September 24, 2006. The Devils Tower Centennial Committee and History Association, in partnership with the NPS, planned, organized, and executed programs for five key celebratory events.

Almost 900 people enjoyed a reenactment of the Old Settlers' Picnic on June 18, with the Buttons and Bows Homemakers Club in charge of details. The Club welcomed visitors to the picnic in their period costumes, while attendees enjoyed an antique car show, quilt display, historical photographs, Tower memorabilia, and informative speeches.

On July 4 climbers paid homage to the 1893 climb, raising an American flag on the Tower summit. Present that day were Jan and Herb Conn, Todd Skinner, Jim McCarthy, Dennis Horning, and other climbers with a special connection to the Tower. Visitors could watch climbing demonstrations and participate in a climbing workshop.

The Cowboy Festival July 22 and 23, held on private land just outside the DTNM entrance, boasted an outdoor craft festival, food booths, petting zoo, and a western art show. A rotating schedule of entertainment over the two days culminated in a performance by Baxter Black, who charmed the audience with his cowboy poetry and his unique brand of western wisdom. The weekend was hot and dry, although attendance may have been negatively affected by a local wildfire which closed area roads for a time the week prior to the festival.

Rainy and cold weather prevailed for the American Indian Heritage Weekend August 25-27. Drum groups, traditional dance performers, and musicians shared their talents throughout the event, and teepees stood tall in the picnic area where native artists demonstrated traditional crafts.

The anniversary weekend of September 22-24 opened on Friday evening with Mark Klemetsrud, a Theodore Roosevelt enactor, giving a program on Roosevelt's boyhood. On Saturday, exhibits and presentations on the park's resources were available at the picnic area, with a free shuttle transporting visitors to the Visitor Center at the base of the Tower. Early evening found Klemetsrud presenting Theodore Roosevelt, A Conservation President in the amphitheatre followed by the Little Sun/High Eagle Drum and Dance Group from Ethete, Wyoming.

The commemoration ceremony on Sunday afternoon was well attended, with dignitaries on the dais and visitors filling all available seating. Northern Cheyenne Tribal President Eugene Little Coyote represented his tribe at the activities, as did President of the Rosebud Sioux Rodney Bordeaux. Other special guests included U.S. Senator Craig Thomas, U.S. Senator Mike Enzi's State Director Robin Bailey, U.S. Representative Barbara Cubin, NPS Intermountain Regional Director Mike Snyder, and Governor Dave Freudenthal.

In keeping with Tower tradition, blessings were given, speeches were made, and bands played, with the Tower as a glorious backdrop. Theodore Roosevelt IV, great-grandson of President Roosevelt, rode a horse to the stage and gave the keynote address. Refreshments were served at the picnic shelter, where visitors could watch a video address by Vice President Dick Cheney.

STUDIES AT THE national monument are evaluated, updated, and the data compiled in ways useful to determining policy change and successful programs. DTNM staff count prairie dogs, birds, animals, flowers, accidents, overflights of the Tower by aircraft, livestock trespass, and visitors to the Tower. They watch the sky, the land, the water, and wonder which way the wind will blow, both literally and figuratively.

The NPS effort to incorporate all of history, and to educate visitors about all facets of a national park or monument's worth, has resulted in broad mandates and directives. At Devils Tower National Monument, these have resulted in active Interpretation and Resource Management departments working to collect, disseminate, preserve, and publicize the varied and important aspects of the Tower environment—the physical, cultural, and historical elements that are the foundation of a Tower experience.

DTNM continues to strive for the proper balance between the economic, ecological, and aesthetic concerns of public use. The historical and cultural memory of place—that intangible, elusive worth—is evident to those who work at the Tower. Horace Albright, who played a leading role in the National Park Service from 1917 to 1933 in various official capacities, had this to say about America's special places: "To preserve our precious history and heritage we must be devoted to the past, vigilant in the present and optimistic about the future." [3]

As the Tower stands witness to the beginning of another century of national monument status, we have only today, the bridge between the past and the future—a time of reflection to appreciate the past and envision the future, a time of action to affect the future and reconcile the past. The Tower stands, witness to the history of this western landscape, witness to the stories told and lived at Devils Tower National Monument.

Devils Tower at a glance. . .


Superintendent: — Chas Cartwright 2001-2002
Lisa Eckert 2002-2005
Dorothy Fire Cloud 2006-

Visitors: — 1,932,929 (2001-2005)
Climbers: — 13,854 (2001-2003)
Summits: — 5,311 (2001-2003)

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Last Updated: 23-Jan-2009