Grant-Kohrs Ranch
Administrative History
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Chapter Four:

The missing key to unlocking the ranch to public access was the pedestrian underpasses beneath the two railroads. But, the railroad companies seemed to be in no hurry. "The public expects us to open this summer . . . We have been talking about it for years and everyone is becoming a little impatient," Peterson wrote to a Burlington official. [20] The two companies had insisted that the design and construction of the facility would be done by their own engineers in order to meet critical railroad standards. There was also the question of the railroads granting rights-of-way to the NPS for the trail crossing. These approvals took more time than the Park Service anticipated, consequently the documents were not drafted until the spring of 1976. [21] However, the revised grading requirements stipulated by the NPS further slowed the process.

construction of underpass
Construction of Milwaukee Railroad underpass, 1976.
(Courtesy Grant-Kohrs Ranch NHS)

An impatient Peterson was presented with a serendipitous opportunity to employ some political pressure when the Secretary's Advisory Board scheduled a visit to the Site in June. Accompanying the group was William J. Briggle, the NPS deputy director from Washington. During the few hours that the Board members were on-site, Peterson found. the opportunity to brief Briggle on the seemingly endless postponements imposed by the railroads, particularly the Burlington Northern. With nearly everything else in place for public access to the park, it was frustrating and. embarrassing for the staff to be unable to explain the delay. After Briggle returned to Washington, he laid the groundwork with Senator Lee Metcalf's office to prepare an inquiry, ostensibly initiated by the senator, into the failure of the NPS to open Grant-Kohrs Ranch. This gave the NPS an opportunity to respond with a formal explanation of the problem, which served as a catalyst for Metcalf to tweak the Burlington Northern. [22]

Although the agreement with the Milwaukee Railroad was signed in July, the Burlington Northern dragged its corporate feet for more than a month. Milwaukee officials informed the Park Service that they would. begin construction in September 1976. The Burlington Northern once again cited lengthy delays. It would take months to obtain materials, they said, and. that would carry them into winter. By that time, the ground would be frozen so that pilings could not be set. It would be April 1977, at the earliest, before they could complete their underpass. Still, the optimistic park staff held out hope that both underpasses might be completed earlier. [23]

It was not. True to form, the Burlington Northern put off starting work until near the end of March 1977, well after the Milwaukee Railroad had completed its share of the project. [24] The end in sight, at last, a weary Superintendent Peterson issued bid invitations to complete the trail work and informed the Deer Lodge community that he was still hoping for a June 1 opening. This would be followed by a dedication ceremony in July. Even though the Burlington Northern completed its underpass in May, it still was too late for the park to open in June. The trail across the railroad corridor was yet to be finished, along with water and sewer line connections across the same easement. Once those connections were made, the park maintenance staff had only to put last minute touches on the contact station and rest rooms. Con Warren even provided a wooden flag staff which was positioned. near the contact station. In the interest of public relations, the park staff extended a special invitation to the Deer Lodge business community to participate in a special "sneak-peek" tour of the ranch during the first week in June. [25]

railroad underpass
Access trail beneath railroad underpass.
(Courtesy Grant-Kohrs Ranch NHS)

The long-awaited formal establishment and opening of the area was slated for July 16, 1977. It was to be a grand. affair attended. by a plethora of politicians, NPS officials, Kohrs and Bielenberg family descendants, and Montana citizenry. Pete Peterson and his staff worked up to the final moments to ensure the success of the event. So close in fact was the completion of the contract work that, on the eve of the dedication, Peterson himself took rake in hand to help groom the newly laid gravel along the trail. [26]

Shortly after the dedication that he had worked so hard to bring to fruition, Peterson accepted a transfer to Washington, D. C., as a trainee in the Departmental Manager Program. This career-enhancing opportunity is offered to a limited number of employees with demonstrated potential for higher-level responsibilities. His three years at Grant-Kohrs had been a challenging, if not an often frustrating, time. But, he eventually reaped those "rewards of Park Service work." He and his staff had taken a park unit in its formative stage and through dedication, creativity, and hard work had brought it up to a basic level of operation. It would be up to his successors to consolidate and refine those gains.

With its foundation firmly established, the Grant-Kohrs National Historic Site was opened at last. Still, it had many critical needs when Superintendent Tom Vaughan arrived. in October 1977. Among those facilities-related matters yet to be overcome was that of providing an adequate water supply for both domestic use and for fire protection. The latter was vital, since the only water source available on the ranch was the spring-fed well, boosted by a 300 gallon-per-minute pump. At maximum pumping capacity, the well could supply water for only five minutes. The relatively small reservoir tank that had been acquired with the ranch had been sufficient for family needs, but was woefully inadequate for park requirements. Considering the high fire danger posed by nearly three dozen frame buildings, an appeal was made to program $209,000.00 in fiscal year 1978 to correct this situation. [27]

The funding did not materialize that quickly, but the project did. receive priority consideration late in 1979 when the old water source was condemned. [28] As a consideration for reducing resource impacts, it was decided to place all of the utilities, water, electric, and telephone, in a single trench. There was also a question that has plagued many historic sites: how best "to turn ugly old non-historic fire hydrants and hose housing into less intrusive features in the historic complex." Vaughan and others pondered this for some time. At last, the superintendent concluded that, "Anything we can think of to hide the fixtures is inevitably bulkier and more conspicuous than the objects to be hidden." Therefore, they would be left as they were. He did acknowledge that the hose house for the lower yard would have to be specially-designed by the park staff. [29]

The park would be supplied with water via a 10-inch line connecting with the city system a few hundred feet west of the railroads on Milwaukee Avenue. From there it would be buried in a trench along Park Street to a point where it would cross the boundary into park land. The line would traverse one of Con Warren's leased hayfields to a point south of the stallion barn (HS-14). The contract was let to Early Times Construction Company. [30]

This project, like many seemingly clear-cut park projects, quickly degenerated into a nightmare. Despite NPS warnings to the contractor prior to the bidding process, Early Times chose to ignore the high ground water conditions prevalent in the valley. As predicted, the trenching operation encountered water just 400 feet north of Milwaukee Avenue. Conditions intensified all the way to the ranch. The contractor's crew had to employ pumps for the entire time to reduce the water coming into the trench. To make matters worse, the contractor failed to use any sort of shoring in an already-too-narrow trench. The results were predictable. The crew fought flooding and collapsing trench walls nearly the entire 4,000-foot distance to the ranch. The project was still unfinished when Tom Vaughan departed for a new job at Harpers Ferry Center, late in July 1980. [31]

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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006