CHAPTER 3: REHABILITATING AND PRESERVING THE FORT (continued)
All non-historic buildings at the fort also underwent change. In 1982, the monument began to renovate the out-of-date visitor center by relocating the interior partitions, insulating the walls, carpeting the lobby, and installing florescent lights. Renovations included the reconstruction of two restrooms to provide easy access for handicapped visitors. When the remodeling of the visitor center was completed the following spring, it resulted in a more pleasant environment for both visitors and employees.  As had the visitor center, the residential houses and maintenance shop received new foam roofs and stucco paint. However, a severe thunderstorm in the summer of 1983 struck Fort Union. Concentrated in the residential and maintenance areas, the thunderstorm, combined with a 37 mile-per-hour wind, caused approximately $30,000 in damages, which included the destruction of a storage shed and damage to the new roofs. This was the most costly natural disaster in the history of the monument.  But maintenance workers soon repaired most of the damaged buildings. In 1984, Fort Union concluded its four-year reroofing project.
Another aspect of this fresh outlook at the fort was a new trail and roads. In July 1983, as a service project, the Boy Scout troops of Las Vegas laid out a flagstone walkway from the visitor center to the hospital. Additionally, the Boy Scout troop from Santa Fe erected three platforms along the trail for interpretive purposes.  In 1984, under the Federal Lands Highway Program, Fort Union received $200,000 to reconstruct its aged roads. Awarded this contract, R. L. Stacey Construction of Santa Fe began to reconstruct and resurface all the blacktop roads within the park boundary. The company repaved all the residential driveways, the entrance road, and the maintenance parking area. They finished most of the job in December 1985.  After the Park Service found some minor defects, the company returned the next summer to put new patches and fog coats on some cracked areas.  By 1986, Fort Union had renovated almost all its supporting facilities and become a more accessible and accommodating place.
In March 1987, Carol Kruse accepted a promotion to superintendent of Tonto National Monument in Arizona. The fort lost a good manager. Nevertheless, two months later, exciting news arrived that the new regional director, John E. Cook, had decided to grant Fort Union independence from Capulin Mountain National Monument. Realizing that Fort Union and Capulin Mountain had represented totally different values and purposes, he dissolved the seven-year odd marriage between the two units. Although the separation cost a little money, it helped the development of Fort Union, which gained more budgetary freedom. 
Between June 7 and October 1, the administrative functions at the two sections were gradually separated. During that time, Douglas C. McChristian of Hubbell Trading Post in Arizona came to assume the superintendency of the fort. As an energetic manager, he helped carry out a smooth transition of the administration. Accordingly his administration placed emphasis on finding more efficient methods of ruins preservation. His tenure, however, lasted less than a year. In May 1988, John Cook called him to Santa Fe for a new appointment. Later, he was selected as historian of Custer Battlefield National Monument (the present day Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument) in Montana. Several months had passed before the monument got a new chief. On August 15, Harry Myers, a seven-year veteran as superintendent of Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial in Ohio, came to fill the same position at Fort Union. The arrival of Myers, an experienced leader who fully understood how to build relationships among and with employees, opened a new chapter in the administrative history of the monument. 
After Fort Union became a separate administrative unit, it immediately entered a new era of ruins preservation. Managers and workers were deeply involved in more comprehensive research and planning instead of simple practice. Until that time, the fort lacked enough information for the proper management of its cultural resources. Although Greene and Pitcaithley had produced a historic structure report, the study contained virtually no information on the First and Second Forts. The park even lacked a historical base map of the ruins. In 1989, regional historian Melody Webb initiated a new project for the creation of the historical base maps of Fort Union. Research historian James E. Ivey received the assignment. His work will soon be completed. 
In 1987, the Regional Office and Fort Union began to conduct a thorough investigation of the remaining structures. Their purpose was to collect all the data concerning the ruins and develop a comprehensive preservation plan. Approving $12,000 for a preservation-plan study, the regional office asked research historian Rick Geiser to do some preliminary work on the subject.  A large project was planned for the period from 1988 to 1990; it required $80,000 annually for a total of $240,000. In addition, $20,000 of the total was earmarked for a joint adobe preservation research project with Pecos National Monument.  Research historian Laura Harrison was assigned to do the historical resource study in 1988. Unfortunately, after only one season the National Park Service put the project on hold due to lack of funds.
Despite this big setback, the park staff at the monument continued to accumulate knowledge on preservation methods and techniques. In 1987, the Regional Office appropriated $2,500 to hire a special consultant to provide training in basic adobe preservation techniques, which included the selection of proper soil, the manufacturing of adobe bricks, and the coating of walls.  P. G. McHenry, an adobe specialist from Albuquerque, received the contract to examine soil types and recommend a suitable one. He worked closely with the preservation crew at the fort and taught workers how to use new tools and more efficient methods. In September, he and Park Service adobe specialists conducted a hands-on workshop at Fort Union. Colleagues from other state and national parks attended this session. In the end, workers improved their methods of preservation and learned a better formula for soil selection. 
The ruins preservation at the fort continued to improve. In the late 1980s, workers conducted their routine operations without any significant problems. Each season they manufactured more than a thousand adobe bricks. The major work, as usual, was to plaster adobe walls and do emergency repairs after severe weather.  Even though the park was still waiting for a comprehensive preservation plan, the crew continued to search for the best way to protect the ruins. In comparison with other parks, Fort Union had done a remarkable job in adobe preservation, and its experiences were valuable for others. Again in April 1989, Fort Union hosted a three-week workshop for colleagues from other areas. 
Because of their nature, adobe structures present more preservation difficulties. Since the establishment of the monument, Fort Union has lost one-third of the adobe walls (from 200,000 square feet in 1955 to the present 120,000 square feet) due to natural causes. But workers at the fort have no desire to quit. Instead, they put more effort than ever into preservation work. They are still searching for the best way to save the ruins.
After 36 years of intensive care in the National Park system, Fort Union National Monument has matured. When the Park Service adopted this historic site in 1956, there was nothing on the land except the ruins themselves. Today, the monument has appropriate support facilities: a 3.39-mile road system, a 4,000-square-foot visitor center, and 15 residential and maintenance buildings. All of them are in good condition. The most significant aspect of good care at the fort belongs to ruins preservation, in which the park staff keeps the deterioration of the ruins at minimal rate. In general, the experiences of Fort Union in preservation and development have been remarkable.
Last Updated: 22-Jan-2001