Grant-Kohrs Ranch
Administrative History
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Chapter Two:

When the National Park Service acquired Grant-Kohrs Ranch it faced several problems that were unprecedented in its experience. Even though Lyndon B. Johnson Ranch (LBJ) in Texas and Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota each had an element of the cattle industry in its respective story, neither had been set aside principally for that purpose. Rather, the two parks memorialized the individuals reflected in their respective titles. Cattle raising at LBJ, for instance, was an incidental aspect of President Johnson's heritage, while Roosevelt's Elk Horn Ranch, which remained undeveloped by the Park Service, exemplified his dedication to conservation, as well as encompassing outstanding examples of Northern Plains Badlands geology. Grant-Kohrs Ranch NHS, on the other hand, was identified specifically for its direct relationship with the range cattle industry, as personified in two of the West's great cattle barons, and for the opportunity it afforded to graphically represent that sub-theme within the larger context of westward expansion.

The agency possessed a wealth of experience in planning many types of parks, but re-configuring a working ranch into a public historic site posed new challenges. Some of these had been foreseen when Historian Aubrey C. Haines had prepared a brief feasibility report in 1966. Haines, on the staff at Yellowstone National Park, was sent to Deer Lodge to examine the ranch and to offer his opinions as to whether it retained enough integrity to be further considered for inclusion in the Park System. Following on Haines's positive recommendation, two professionals, Merrill J. Mattes and John Calef, from the San Francisco Planning and Service Center inspected the ranch the next year. Mattes, a distinguished historian in his own right, saw potential for the ranch in relation to the burgeoning "living history" movement then sweeping the nation. "If we are indeed going to 'go into the cattle business,' "Mattes wrote, "we should do so with imagination, and on a scale that will make federal participation significant far beyond the preservation of objects and buildings." Mattes thus defined the long-term management direction for Grant-Kohrs Ranch.

However, the acquisition of too little property might constrain the presentation to hardly more than a historic house museum. Mattes predicted that this would present "the awkward problem of just how to segregate the historic features from the working ranch," meaning Con Warren's Hereford operation just across the railroad from the original headquarters ranch. Mattes argued that if the proposed park boundaries were expanded to include the core of the active ranch as well, it would provide greater latitude, but at the same time it would be incumbent on the Park Service to perpetuate that operation. He admitted that, "the operation of a live hay and cattle ranch would pose problems," yet he did not consider them to be insurmountable. Mattes cautioned that the Service should only enter into such an obligation with a complete understanding and acceptance of the premise that the ranching operation would continue. [1]

That Mattes's remarks were heeded was reflected in the agreement signed between Con Warren and the National Park Foundation upon its purchase of the historic ranch in 1970. This Historic Use Agreement specified that the site was, "to be managed as a living ranch . . . for the inspiration and benefit of the American people." [2] Warren initially wanted to sell only two small parcels of land, one of about 35 acres upon which were the Grant-Kohrs Ranch buildings, and another of about ten acres bordering the north side of the Deer Lodge city limit, west of Highway 10. At that time, he and his wife Nell were opposed to selling a larger area and accepting a life estate for themselves on the Warren Ranch proper. During negotiations during the spring and summer of 1970 Park Service and Foundation staff convinced the Warrens of the necessity for acquiring a larger holding for historic site purposes. In the end, the Warrens agreed to the life estate provision on five acres surrounding their home. [3]

Warren Ranch House
Warren Ranch House, c. 1945.
(Courtesy Grant-Kohrs Ranch NHS)

Once the Foundation had acquired Grant-Kohrs Ranch, Acting Regional Director Robert L. Giles informed Director Hartzog that ". . . we must move forward on the master plan." for the ranch. [4] Master plans, more recently termed general management plans, served as a basic planning framework for all national park units and were an essential step in the process of initially authorizing parks. Such documents varied somewhat from park to park, according to circumstances, and they could be updated periodically to address current needs and issues. Nevertheless, the first plan for any park was particularly important for outlining the basic resources, as well as management objectives. Most plans for small historic sites addressed concepts for preservation, visitor use, and land acquisition. These equated to estimated costs for lands, development, staffing, and operation.

A serious effort to prepare a master plan for the ranch had been launched early in 1971, prior to the acquisition of the site Although Montana Senator Lee Metcalf had been eager to introduce legislation to authorize the site as a unit of the System, the a bill could not be drafted until NPS was able to articulate in more detail its plans and needs for the area. Writing to Metcalf in January, NPS Assistant Director for Legislation Joe Holt informed the senator that some of the concepts for the area had changed with the acquisition of more lands than originally anticipated. The uses and benefits of the additional acreage would have to be evaluated with regard to the overall development concept for the site. [5]

A planning directive was prepared and approved by mid-March. The team, led by Landscape Architect John B. Sage from the Denver Service Center (DSC), included Yellowstone Park Superintendent Jack Anderson. Historian Edwin C. Bearss, and John Douglass, by then the assistant chief interpreter at Rocky Mountain National Park. The members rendezvoused at Deer Lodge early in May 1971. [6] The pressure was on to develop a master plan as quickly as possible to be ready for the Congressional hearings.

To no one's surprise, the team focused most of its attention on the proposed boundary for the site, addressing in particular a means of convenient public access. Deliberations began with the team's acceptance of the premise that the ranch house (HS-1) would be used as the primary visitor contact station. The most direct entrance to the Grant-Kohrs house led past Con Warren's residence, but in accordance with Con's request, this was designated as a service road only for park staff. He did, however, offer to donate an easement north of his house, passing in front of the big red barn, on which the Service could and later did construct an alternate access road. [7] The railroad, however, was opposed to a public crossing through their right-of-way at that point because of safety considerations.Therefore, an alternative entrance had to be found.

The area acquired by the Park Foundation included a small parcel of land, approximately 10 acres (designated as Tract E), lying between the Highway 10 and the railroad tracks, south of the Warren residence. Preliminary discussions between the NPS and Warren envisioned visitor parking and other facilities being located on this tract, but it, too, involved getting the public safely over the railroad tracks. [8]

The team, however, largely ignored this suggestion, preferring instead to bring visitors into the site from the south, through a small adjoining city park. This would be "a transitional zone where the existing diverse scenes can blend." Driving through the park along a tree-lined approach lane, the visitor would make a transition from the modern world to the days of the Kohrs and Bielenberg Ranch. A compelling consideration for the team's recommendation of this site as the park entrance stemmed from the inherent safety hazards associated with moving visitors across two sets of railroad tracks within the site. This location would route visitors from U. S. 10 (Main Street) west on Milwaukee Avenue and across the tracks outside the park boundary. The visitor entrance to Grant-Kohrs NHS, accordingly, would be via Park Street, which could be extended north from Milwaukee through the city park. Starting at the park boundary, a meandering low-key road would traverse the Stuart Meadow. A parking lot for 75 cars would be established on high ground, west of the tracks, a few hundred yards south of the historic buildings. The proposal also would "consolidate the relationship between city interests and historic ranch interests." Since the main park entrance would lie immediately west of downtown Deer Lodge, the potential benefit to the town "would be mutually beneficial." [9]

The planners considered a vehicular right-of-way to be the minimal NPS interest in the city park, labeled Parcel "S" on their map. "However," the team reported, "the potential to develop and protect this key area . . . is too important an issue to resolve without a cooperative approach to the question." City planners were interested in constructing a picnic area on joint-use acreage, though the team's comment suggests that the Park Service perceived a larger threat of commercial development at the front door of the historic site. [10]

aerial view of Grant-Kohrs Ranch
Aerial view of Grant-Kohrs Ranch, with Warren Ranch in middle ground.
(Courtesy Grant-Kohrs Ranch NHS)

An initial draft of the master plan called for the visitor and support facilities to be on the west side of the still actively-used railroad tracks, so that staff would be readily available in the event of an emergency. Trains sometimes paused in this area for periods of up to half an hour. After reviewing the plan, however, Vein Hennesay wrote a note to Superintendent Anderson objecting to this element because, "without support facilities on the east side of the tracks, that small track [sic] of land is useless to us." [11] Subsequent versions of the plan placed park administrative buildings on Tract E, adjacent to Highway 10.

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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006