Standing Witness
Devils Tower National Monument: A History
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Chapter IX

1980 — U.S. boycotts Summer Olympics in Moscow
1983 — U.S. loses the America's Cup for the first time in 142 years
1986 — Space Shuttle Challenger accident
1988 — Yellowstone National Park's forest fires
1989 — Berlin Wall falls

THE DEVILS TOWER NATURAL HISTORY ASSOCIATION consistently proved to be a good partner to the National Park Service, providing aid in dollars, in personnel, and in products that could be sold in the Tower gift shop. They contributed more than $7,000 in assistance in 1981.

National monument personnel also partnered with local groups and school organizations. The Hulett chapter of Future Farmers of America (FFA) assembled and installed four wheelchair-accessible picnic tables, with more tables planned for construction.

A new entrance kiosk was built and installed during April. Travel numbers would set a new all-time record for 1981, with 300,308 visitors—at the same time, uniformed seasonal staff was down 30 percent. Over 2,000 barrier posts were installed at various locations on national monument grounds to reduce illegal off-road vehicle use.

On September 24, the NPS Regional Director spoke at an event celebrating the 75th anniversary of Devils Tower National Monument.

In late September, a group of American Indians, mostly Lakota, arrived at the Tower for religious purposes and stayed for four weeks. The largest number participating at any one time was around 60 people. The one serious incident involved a shot being fired into the Indian camp by a local man.

Personnel continued to shift and change jobs throughout the National Park Service system. With the help of a maintenance man, new cedar shingles were installed on two historic buildings. Workers placed a deer-proof fence around the sewage lagoon, and poured concrete slabs for the wheelchair-accessible picnic tables in the campground.

The first recorded wedding at the top of the Tower took place on July 26, 1982, between Jim Cunningham and Barbara Noseworthy. All members of the wedding party were experienced climbers, and all except one had previously climbed the Tower, with Cunningham ascending the Tower numerous times. Cunningham wrote a note in the summit register on a later climb, "I got married up here nine years ago (plus about ten days). The "marriage on the rocks" is still going strong (sorry Barb couldn't get away from work to come on this trip). I'll be back for more. Health and Happiness. JC" [1]

Robinson reported that, in August, the Wyoming Travel Commission and KTWO Radio, Casper, made a three-hour live radio broadcast from the Tower Visitor Center.

A two-year plant study by Hollis Marriott, funded by the History Association, was completed, with over 400 plants being identified. Marriott was a graduate student from the University of Wyoming, and had worked as a botanist since 1977. The herbarium research project documented 55 plants previously unrecorded in the County, and two plants new to Wyoming.

DTNM installed a new GE base station radio system in 1983, complete with nine remote stations, four mobiles, and eight portables. This unit replaced the one in use since 1973. The Wyoming Travel Commission sponsored a breakfast for touring foreign writers at the Tower, with the History Association hosting the event. Fifteen sonic booms were recorded in 1983, and Robinson notes that the Tower was buzzed by United States Air Force fighter planes seven times on five different days.

Law enforcement incidents were on the rise in the national monument, with 65 cases in 1984. Cattle trespass occurred on 16 different days, and one deer was illegally killed on DTNM property.

All of the field work for a fire history and a vegetation mosaic were completed, including flood plain cross sections of the Belle Fourche River where it flowed within the national monument boundary. The collection of insects from the Tower area was also completed, with the identification of the specimens expected to take several years.

Robinson records in his report, "Sonic booms declined to one in 1984. They were replaced by military fighter planes that buzzed us on 35 days!" [2] It seemed the pilots just could not resist taking in the aerial view of the Tower.

Six underground fuel oil tanks were replaced in four Tower residences, and the Visitor Center and Administration Building. New roofs were put on the Picnic Area and Campground Comfort Stations, and the Visitor Center and three residences were rewired to meet new standards.

IN JUNE or 1984 the world's longest tyrolean traverse (854'2") was set up at the Tower for rescue practice by the NPS and the National Cave Rescue Commission. A summit-to-base tyrolean is a lowering technique designed to keep a victim and rescuer away from the face of the rock by securing the bottom end of the main line far from the base of the wall. (It can also be horizontal across a chasm.) The victim is secured in a litter (a specialized stretcher for carrying sick or wounded people), and, attended by a rescuer, is slid down the mainline to safety. The speed of the descent is controlled by another rope called the belay line.

A tyrolean is especially useful when there is rough ground at the base of the rescue site, making a carry-out time consuming and difficult, or when there is loose debris on the rock, making it dangerous to lower a litter vertically. These conditions are present at the Tower, making it the perfect location to practice a rescue.

NPS employees from DTNM, the Joshua Tree National Monument Search and Rescue Team from California, and Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota worked with members of the National Cave Rescue Commission (NCRC) who came from various parts of the U.S. and Canada. Ranger Tom Patterson, head of the search and rescue team from Joshua Tree (JOSAR), and a member and principal instructor of the NCRC, would be the incident commander. The JOSAR team had used a tyrolean for several victim evacuations, and picked DTNM as the place to expand the limits of technical rescue.

While some national parks and monuments maintain search-and-rescue teams, Devils Tower National Monument does not. The staff can only respond to a rescue to the level of their training, which varies greatly from year to year, depending on employee turnover. Climbers climb at their own risk.

In January of 1985 a NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) weather radio receiver was installed in the Visitor Center. Remote speakers were put in the Administration Building, maintenance shop, and several residencies. Robinson felt the Tower staff would be promptly alerted to any unusual weather conditions.

The Visitor Center did not open until late in the season because of interior renovation and the installation of new exhibits, which were well received. The Center, opened on June 23 and closed on October 31, had an attendance of only 86,160 people, the fewest in many years.

Robinson recorded more activity in the air around the Tower: "The incidents of low-flying aircraft increased dramatically in 1985 with the many very low passes by British military aircraft for several weeks. See Aircraft Log, W46 x 5815." [3]

DTNM got their first computer, an Epson QX-10, in May 1985, purchased with History Association funds. Robinson points out that it was well used and liked by the staff.

Several maintenance and improvement projects were completed. The Tower Trail was seal-coated with the help of four Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) enrollees. A second trailer hook-up site was finished in the campground. The History Association donated and constructed a picnic shelter with a concrete floor; it became a favored location very quickly, even more so after lights and outlets were installed in 1986.

LOW FLYING AIRCRAFT, both civilian and military, continued to plague DTNM in 1986; Robinson was especially bothered by a helicopter service out of Gillette flying sightseers around the Tower, and he noted that many more aircraft were at the national monument than were officially logged—he had seen four airplanes on one particular morning, and none were logged.

Tree thinning was completed on 133 acres near the Visitor Center, to prepare the area for a spring burn in 1987. As a safety precaution, fifty-four dead cottonwoods were cut down in the campground.

During the mid-eighties, more American Indian tribes began returning to the Tower for religious and spiritual ceremonies, responding to the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978. This Act provided that American Indians have an inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise their traditional religions, with right of entry to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites. In June, a number of American Indians, again mostly Lakota, held a sun dance at the Tower.

Gerald One Feather, a Lakota elder and former chairman of the Oglala tribe, confirms that the Tower is one of several Black Hills locations considered sacred by the Lakotas. Bear Butte, near Sturgis, S.D., Harney Peak, south of Rapid City, S.D., and Pe Sla, a bare hill in the center of the Black Hills, are three other sites at which Indians hold ceremonies. Wind Cave is identified as the place of origin for Lakotas.

Prayer cloths tied to a small pine tree (Devils Tower National Monument)

Each sacred site has a ritual connected to the physical formation. The Tower is considered a place of renewal and regeneration, a place to restore faith—most rituals are performed during the summer solstice. Prayer offerings—colorful bundles and ties filled with tobacco and sage—are left year-round as people visit the Tower to pray and meditate.

A gathering of the seven bands of Lakotas meet at Bear Butte in August, to celebrate their tribal connections. In the spring they "welcome the thunder," [4] at Harney Peak and take food as an offering to Pe Sla as a welcoming of the season.

One Feather referred to the Lakota belief in four values—faith, "big mind," [5] future generations, and natural law. Natural law guides when the ceremonies will take place—a seasonal solstice or a full moon dictate when some rituals will be performed. At the Tower, the summer solstice in June is a call to gather, circle around the pipe, and pray.

ON AUGUST 25, 1986, DTNM had its first fatal climbing accident. Scott Hardy a 16-year-old from Wright, Wyoming, fell an undetermined distance while climbing alone, and was found lying on top of the leaning column of the Durrance Route by another climbing party. Successfully evacuated and stabilized by park rangers, aided by an emergency medical service and a local physician, he subsequently died in the ambulance between Sundance and Spearfish, S.D.

Robinson noted, "We have had over 20,000 people on top and probably twice that many that climb on portions of the Tower." [6] Climbing can be done safely—Tower personnel assist more visitors who injure themselves in the boulder field than they do technical climbers.

That same summer, Shauna Kopischka, age 10 from Laramie, Wyoming, became the youngest girl to climb the Tower. She had been climbing since the age of six, and her father, who was her instructor climbed the Tower with her. Her story was featured in National Geographic World in the January 1987 issue.

ROBINSON RETIRED FROM the National Park Service on January 30, 1987. He and Gisele had built a home on land next to the national monument, and they remained in the area for several years.

William "Bill" Pierce began his superintendent assignment at DTNM on February 15, 1987, transferring from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. He, his wife, Nadine, and two sons first stayed in the original log house at the base of the Tower, then moved into one of the national monument houses in the river valley.

During the summer the permanent staff was supplemented with sixteen seasonal employees and two volunteers. Special events that year included a Keep America Beautiful clean-up day, the dedication of the new interpretive kiosk, the motorcycle rally, and an American Lung Association bike tour. A sun dance was held in May and went very well, according to Pierce. He also says the same of a film made by a Japanese company in September, but there were no more details or information recorded.

He notes, "The DTNHA had another great year of supporting the national monument interpretive programs. They handled visitor information and sales at the visitor center daily during the summer with 62 hours per week in staff. They also funded the construction of the new interpretive kiosk, the new 'Thank You' certificates for the visitors, and various publications." [7]

The monitoring and treatment program for the exotic spurge and thistle continued; the invasive plants were being maintained at an acceptable level. A prescribed burn was attempted, but weather conditions changed and the fire had to be suppressed with only twenty acres burned of the 110-acre-unit. Trees were then removed along the edge of that section to reduce the fire danger.

All of the historic structures were inspected and preservative maintenance completed on the exterior of the entrance building.

More than 280 aircraft over-flights were recorded. As a result, the FAA and the military agreed to put DTNM on their Aeronautical Charts.

HOT AND DRY weather for the summer season of 1988 encouraged visitation at DTNM, but smoke, haze, and odor from the fires in Yellowstone National Park and the Black Hills area affected the experience.

Pierce felt the national monument needed a Resource Management Specialist to continue, and improve, the resource management program. DTNM hired Jane Gyhra for the newly-created resource management position, with fifteen seasonals and four volunteers supplementing the permanent staff of eight. Some volunteers worked for just a few hours on a specific project. Others worked the summer months at a particular job—campground host, Visitor Center assistant, or administration clerk. The operation of the administration became completely computerized, and the staff received the Equal Employment Award from the Regional Director.

In his monthly report Pierce said:

With fee enhancement money we're also able to complete other high priority projects like the tree restoration project in the campground, the completion of the rehabilitation of all our trails, boundary marking, and backcountry clean up. The cultural resources were also improved because of supplemental funding with all the historic buildings roofs being oiled, all gutters repaired or replaced, and the plywood doors on the historic hose house replaced with historically accurate doors.

We are also working closely with the Wyoming Game and Fish on our concern about the game proof fence that is being erected along our north boundary by the adjacent rancher. [8]

The NPS initiated negotiations with the Wyoming Land Office and the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to discuss agreements for a two-step land transfer of State land contiguous to DTNM. A garbage dump on the land could be seen by visitors to the Tower, and the State had been slow to clean the site. The State would deed the land to BLM, and the NPS would be responsible for management of the area until it could be acquired by the DTNM. In 1989, meetings between the government agencies resulted in the State retaining ownership, and agreeing to clean up the dump by the next summer.

Over 250,000 visitors to the national monument in 1988 were in contact with some part of the burgeoning interpretive program at the Tower. The Visitor Center season was expanded, opening May 1 and closing November 1, and the daily hours of operation were increased, as well. The addition of a fourth interpreter and two more History Association employees helped facilitate the longer hours and season.

Pierce credited the History Association's outstanding cooperation as being the key to the Tower's successful interpretive program. Besides their visitor contacts, they hosted cooperative projects, like a clean-up day, with area citizens, and a welcoming picnic for the seasonal staff.

HOT, DRY WEATHER continued in the Black Hills region, and Tower personnel helped fight local fires, two large fires in Idaho, the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, and a search and rescue at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. During 1989 there was one fire at DTNM, and three fires on land adjacent to the national monument boundary.

Permanent staff saw a major turn-over, with the Chief of Maintenance, Chief Ranger, Administrative Officer, and Resource Management Specialist positions all becoming vacant. The summer staff included 17 seasonal workers, five volunteers, and one worker from the Student Conservation Association (usually a college student who applied for an internship with NPS) to supplement the permanent staff of nine. Of concern to staff was the cost of supporting emergency operations throughout the U.S.; Pierce had served on a Forest Service fire in Idaho for 23 days, but his salary was still paid by DTNM.

Public use of the national monument included several special events throughout the year. Over 2,000 people attended an event at the Tower highlighted by the centennial celebration for Montana, North and South Dakota, the kick-off for the Wyoming centennial, and the centennial birthday of Clyde Ice (the pilot who dropped supplies to the parachutist stranded on top of the Tower). DTNM was also the site for a sun dance, an American Lung Association bike ride, and a Founders Day celebration.

In August the Park converted the existing part-time Resource Management Specialist position to a full-time post, and Gyhra continued the resource protection programs. She had previously supervised a vegetative research contract with the Nature Conservancy that documented threatened plant species in the national monument, and set up a fire effects project. In her new position, she expanded an existing exotic plant control program and improved the documentation and monitoring phases. She remained supervisor of the vegetative study and the fire effects research project, while coordinating the development of the Fire Management Plan with the Black Hills Parks Fire Management Officer.

Gyhra also developed a three-year deer utilization and movement study that would provide baseline data on the deer population and the possible effects of the game-proof fence erected by a neighboring rancher along part of the DTNM boundary. Her office continued to seek funding for water and air quality research and monitoring on national monument grounds.

ONE VERY SPECIAL event rounded out the decade—the Wyoming state centennial. The Tower hosted A Wyoming Centennial Day Program at the new DTNM amphitheatre. After a Presentation of Colors and the National Anthem by the Hulett American Legion Post accompanied by a local quartet, Master of Ceremonies Charlie Hunt from Rapid City welcomed the crowd.

Leading the program was the dedication of the new amphitheatre and a Centennial Plaque presentation by Superintendent Pierce and the History Association. Several speakers, among them the mayors of Hulett, Sundance, and Gillette, gave brief comments on Wyoming and its centennial before the keynote speech by Hunt. More music and an old-fashioned barbecue followed the formal ceremony.

Devils Tower at a glance...


Superintendent: — Homer "Pete" Robinson 1981-1987
William L. Pierce 1987-1990

Visitors: — 2,993,386
Climbers: — 44,525
Summits: — 15,667

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Last Updated: 23-Jan-2009