Standing Witness
Devils Tower National Monument: A History
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Chapter VII

1963 — President John F. Kennedy assassinated
1964 — President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act
1968 — Rev. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy assassinated
1969 — Apollo astronauts walk on the moon
1970 — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created

THE EARLY 1960s AT DEVILS TOWER NATIONAL MONUMENT was another era of planned development, projects completed and in progress, and, as always, efforts to improve and enhance the visitor experience. Superintendent Hartzell wrote a revised Park Development Schedule for the Tower in February of 1960, covering the uncompleted portions of the Mission 66 plan and making suggestions that might be considered before final plans for the Visitor Center expansion were complete.

He felt that the extension of the DTNM boundaries, to include the Little Missouri Buttes, would result in a major revision of the entire program for the Tower. While the extension proposal was not dead, he did not think the Tower should predicate all present plans on the possibility.

Aerial view of the Tower and the Little Missouri Buttes to the northwest (Tom A. Warner)

A discussion started in July about the tight roadway corner at the west end of the bridge, and two solutions were proposed: either to enlarge the existing cut at that end to give a straighter approach into the truss portion of the bridge, or relocate the present span to new piers to give a better alignment for a straighter approach. The next month Hartzell withdrew his previous proposal for realignment and set to work preparing a new submittal to relocate the bridge.

In September, three construction projects were approved by the NPS Supervisory Construction Management Engineer: improvement of the existing parking area at the visitor center; improvement of the west approach and railings of the Belle Fourche River bridge; and creation of parking overlooks on approach roads. Although approved by the area engineer, these proposals still needed to be "programmed" into the national system before construction could begin.

A letter sent by President John F. Kennedy to the heads of Executive Departments and Agencies helped move the planned projects along: "In carrying out approved Government programs during the present period of economic slack, we should seek every means consistent with efficiency to accelerate temporarily planned government procurement, construction and related activities. A particularly high priority should be given to actions which could be taken in time to have an effect on unemployment by this spring and to projects located in areas of labor surplus." [1]

His missive went on, encouraging departments to review procurement plans immediately and to place all planned orders as quickly as possible. He expected them to speed construction of public works projects already started, and to accelerate natural resource conservation and development, light construction, maintenance, repair, and other work that could be done or started quickly.

The departments were to also prepare an inventory of projects that could be prioritized or initiated quickly, but which might require additional funds. He expected an answer to this February 2 letter to be submitted no later than February 25.

Press reports of the President's economic message indicated that government spending would be increased where funds were available. Director of the NPS, Conrad Wirth, made clear his intentions of complying with the President's request, in a letter to his Regional Directors, Chiefs, and Superintendents:

By the time you receive this you will have been notified that I want the Parks and Regional Offices to assist the Field Design Offices to the maximum extent possible by the detail, where practicable, of professional or other personnel. I do not expect the operational program in the parks to be seriously hampered, however, I would like it understood, the speed up in the construction program is to have first priority. . . .

I know you have all been making strenuous efforts to see that our programs are carried out expeditiously, but I would like to ask you to exert even more effort in order that the Service may do its share in improving the economy of communities in which our areas are located. I know I can count on you for your fullest cooperation as in the past. [2]

By August of 1961, some Tower projects were finished, some partly completed, and some had not yet begun. Hartzell mentioned two of these to his Regional Director:

During the 1961 fiscal year we surfaced approximately one third of the Tower Trail. This work has been very well received and we think we should continue this project until it is complete.

Due to the relatively short stay of most visitors and the removal of the picnic area and the campground, the old Visitor Center parking area continues to meet most of the demands for Visitor Center parking but we think that even a slight increase in visitors would result in crowded parking conditions. The view points planned . . . would give visitors a more complete and wider view of the Tower and better photographic sites. [3]

More visitors wanted to climb the Tower and Hartzell felt regulations for climbing should be developed, both for the safety of the climbers, and to protect the Tower from physical damage. Rangers checked the equipment of those interested in scaling the Tower, but little else was required. In an interview Hartzell said, "[We] didn't forbid climbers, except for the guy with the clothesline—we did discourage him." [4]

Hartzell described an outdoor wedding held at DTNM in the early 1960s. People gathered on a grassy meadow southwest of the Tower, with a view that stretched fifty miles up the Belle Fourche River valley. Large aluminum cans filled with water and lilacs created an aisle across the meadow. The ceremony was complete with music from a portable organ.

In 1962 Hartzell decided to prepare for reprinting Devils Tower National Monument—A History, and as a result, arranged with Seasonal Ranger Naturalist John Thorson to make an organized search of the old Charles Graham cabin. A Land Office letter indicated that, in 1892, there was an unfinished house, a stable, and a corral on the land. They would look for any relevant material which might indicate the age of the cabin and the period of occupancy

The cabin was built in a small gully between the Tower and a spring. A tall sandstone rock stood at the entrance to the small gully, and names and dates from 1893 to 1929 were carved on the rock. Many old stumps showed evidence of cutting, and small pines and oaks were found in the cabin area.

Glass bottles, tin cans, shoes, hardware items, and expended cartridge shells were the principal items recovered from the site. The cabin lies within 100 yards of the old approach road to the Tower used until a new road was built in the mid-1930s.

May of 1962 saw several parks hurrying to plan and construct temporary campground facilities to handle the expected crowds traveling to and from the World's Fair in Seattle, Washington. By one count, ten million people attended the fair from April 21 to October 21, 1962, so the effort to provide for more accommodations in the national parks was certainly justified.

Hartzell outlined five key points to the DTNM plan for temporary facilities. He estimated the money needed for additional expenses—more tables and garbage cans—and attached a sketch map showing where the concentration of campers would be, relative to the Tower. The national monument was as prepared for World Fair travelers as he could make it.

ROBERT J. MURPHY took the reins of DTNM when he became superintendent on April 21, 1963.

In January, 1966, A. Clark Stratton, Acting Director of the NPS, sent a letter with suggestions on how each national park and national monument could help commemorate the Golden Anniversary of the National Park Service.

Fifty years of dedication to the preservation of the nation's natural and historic heritage would culminate in a special ceremony, on August 25 of 1966. While the smaller units in the NPS were not able, or expected, to carry out elaborate programs, all sites were challenged to be a part of the national endeavor, and every NPS employee to be a public relations officer. It was all a matter of employing the strengths that defined each individual unit within the NPS jurisdiction.

The NPS was to be promoted for a year, using as many of the nine points in Stratton's letter as feasibly possible. The national office prepared a packaged slide talk, a Fiftieth Anniversary Symbol, and an Anniversary kit to assist each superintendent in planning their program.

By February 3, Superintendent Murphy had a list of anniversary activities compiled and sent, ahead of the February 15 deadline. Murphy received a prompt thank you from Stratton for the very full report of planned activities for the Anniversary year.

A SAFETY APPRAISAL of DTNM was completed in June of 1965. The more common hazards to visitors were listed as follows: falls on trails; traffic control; dead cottonwood limbs falling in the campground; prairie dog bites; mountain climbing; and rattlesnakes.

Two-thirds of the Tower Trail had been paved, and the remaining portion would be done in 1967. The unpaved portion was relatively safe except when muddy. Simple warnings about wet and muddy trails were the only safeguards deemed necessary.

Regional Chief of Maintenance Cooper recommended striping all roads, and Special Assistant Frank Childs recommended striping the parking lots, too, which would significantly improve the flow of traffic. They also suggested that lowering the speed limit to 25 miles per hour through most of the park would provide safer and better traffic control to bridge approaches, parking near the prairie dog town, the campground/picnic area junction, Administration Building parking, utility area road, and the private cabin area road. A 15-mile-per-hour speed limit was suggested for the campground, and signs warning "Narrow Bridge" needed to be place at both ends of the bridge approaches.

Another concern was the weight limit on the bridge, highlighted when a truck loaded with well drilling equipment, with a gross weight 53 tons, became "lost" and drove up to the Visitor Center, as did another truck loaded with a portable car wash unit, gross weight of 40 tons. The NPS engineering staff was asked to look at the situation and give advice to Murphy.

All hazardous limbs needed to be removed from the trees in the picnic area and the campground, which would require the skills of a tree preservation crew. Once the initial work was done, follow-up maintenance could be accomplished with much less time involved.

Prairie dog bites were believed to happen far more often than reported. A new brochure contained a warning statement, and Childs remarked, "It is hoped the public will read and heed!"

Climbing the Tower continued to gain in popularity. New climbing regulations were drafted to help maintain the safe climbing record. While registration at the Tower was still required, the rangers planned to place more emphasis on the screening of climbers and inspection of their climbing equipment.

Although only one rattlesnake bite had been recorded in recent years, twelve to twenty-four rattlers were killed annually around the prairie dog town, the Tower Trail, and on the roads. Childs suggested a simple "Accident Action Plan" be prepared and posted for employee guidance in the event of a rattlesnake bite.

A fire action plan was set in place, first aid kits upgraded, and nearly all the power equipment and electric outlet plugs had been grounded. Childs gave high marks to the safety consciousness of the DTNM staff, and noted their active membership in the Federal Safety Council of the Black Hills. Safety was well emphasized at all levels and in all activities on national monument grounds.

On October 16, 1965, Superintendent Murphy received an appraisal packet from a realtor. The Thurman property—eighty acres, a cafe, and motel cabins owned by Clifford P. and Alice Thurman—was being offered to the NPS for purchase. This was not the size of the Missouri Buttes boundary extension but, nevertheless, the location of the property in the river valley and its shared border with the existing DTNM boundary would make it a wonderful addition to the national monument holdings.

The NPS encouraged partner organizations—National Park Cooperating Associations—which could assist and help raise funds for parks and monuments, funds that could be used to enhance the visitors' experience. The Devils Tower Natural History Association (DTNHA) incorporated on February 10, 1966, with several objectives.

They planned to sponsor, prepare, publish, and sell books, pamphlets, folders, and maps in the Visitor Center bookstore. Another goal was to acquire material or equipment that could be used in the museum or interpretive work of DTNM. The organization planned to assist the Tower personnel in the collection and preservation of items important to the Tower.

Richard T. Hart supervised DTNM from May 8, 1966 to September 30, 1968, with Alvin T. Aaberg serving as acting superintendent from December of 1968 until Homer Robinson arrived to take on management duties.

Robinson became superintendent of DTNM on June 14, 1970, transferring from Everglades National Park in Florida. Called Pete by almost everyone, he would manage the Tower for over 16 years. He, his wife Gisele, and two sons moved to Wyoming after several assignments at various national parks and monuments across the country

Devils Tower at a glance...


Superintendent: — James F. Hartzell 1961-1963
— Robert J. Murphy 1963-1966
— Richard T. Hart 1966-1968
— Alvin T. Aaberg 1968-1970 (Acting Superintendent)
— Homer "Pete" Robinson 1970

Visitors: — 1,139,000
Climbers: — 1,203

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Last Updated: 23-Jan-2009