John Day Fossil Beds
Administrative History
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Chapter Four:

Establishing a presence

Until January 1975, Klamath Falls Group Superintendent Ernest Borgman coordinated most of the activities related to the monument's establishment from his office in Klamath Falls. [2] The transition to on-site administration began in October 1974, when Borgman asked the chief ranger at Lava Beds National Monument, Ben Ladd, to go to John Day on a periodic basis. [3] Despite having been at Lava Beds for just over a year at the time, Ladd made almost weekly trips to eastern Oregon for the next two months. He moved to John Day early in 1975 on a formal detail whose purpose centered on the coordination of establishment efforts and the maintenance of public relations. [4]

Locating office space posed an initial problem, but Ladd soon accepted an offer to use facilities in the Malheur National Forest Supervisor's Office in John Day on a temporary basis. This gave him time to work with the General Services Administration to secure a permanent headquarters for the prospective national monument. Despite some questions from local residents about relatively long driving distances to the monument's three units, Ladd moved to a leased office near downtown John Day in mid-December 1975. [5] He and other NPS officials reasoned that a headquarters in John Day provided the agency with visibility unattainable elsewhere in Grant and Wheeler counties, while allowing future park staff to secure housing. [6]

Contacts with local landowners during the period between authorization and establishment consisted largely of informing them about change associated with administration of a national monument. As part of this public relations effort, Ladd and several other NPS employees gave talks and slide programs to service clubs and other groups in John Day, Fossil, and Condon during the summer of 1975. [7] The education efforts extended to hunters and fossil collectors once the NPS assumed control of state park lands on July 1, 1975.

Ladd then hired two seasonal employees, Daron Dierks and Bob Johnson, largely to do maintenance on facilities inherited from the state. These consisted of eight toilets, eight picnic tables, and eight garbage cans. [8] Dierks and Johnson split the duties associated with these facilities, but also made a number of signs and information boards to assist visitors. Since the park had no maintenance facilities for producing these signs, the seasonals accomplished the work at ../home. [9]

Park staff in 1975
Park staff in 1975. Left to right are Daron Dierks, Ben Ladd, and Bob Johnson.
(NPS photo)

In addition to their maintenance duties, Dierks and Johnson joined with Ladd in a public relations effort to stop hunting and fossil collecting on NPS lands within the authorized monument. They concentrated on stopping collecting in Blue Basin and ending the use of Painted Hills as a base camp for hunters. [10] As a result of these efforts, Ladd considered unauthorized fossil collecting to have become negligible by the following year. [11] Unauthorized fossil collecting virtually ceased by the end of 1978, though enough problems with vandalism and hunters occurred to warrant having three people with law enforcement commissions on the staff. [12]

Protection did not constitute the sole reason for increasing the number of NPS employees. They numbered eight permanents by the end of 1978, though some had less than full-time appointments. Staffing began once Ladd officially became superintendent on September 28, 1975. [13] Although Borgman helped him fill a staff assistant position two months later, that individual, Francis Kocis, did not enter on duty until January 1976. [14] After obtaining some clerical help early in 1976, Borgman assisted Ladd in establishing a permanent park technician position and more seasonal positions in maintenance, protection, and interpretation. [15]

Ladd did not fill the park technician position until he could make it a GS-9 interpretive park ranger, which happened in 1978. [16] By the end of 1977 two permanent maintenance positions had been established, in addition to a permanent less-than- full-time park technician who served as area manager for the Painted Hills and Clarno units. Ladd stationed the latter employee at Fossil, where protection and public relations efforts could be maintained from a small office in the county courthouse. [17]

From the outset, Ladd cultivated a number of working relationships with state and federal agencies. Interagency assistance and cooperative agreements were essential for a monument with noncontiguous units, especially when attempting to deploy a small staff to protect resources and inform visitors about the park. This led him to begin making contacts in 1975 at all three levels of government so as to lay the groundwork for future operations.

Since the NPS initially had no fire protection capabilities at any of the monument's three units, Ladd worked with the Oregon Department of Forestry to have a cooperative agreement in place by 1976. [18] Signage agreements with the Oregon State Highway Department (OSHD) took longer because the NPS had to deal with three different OSHD districts. This necessitated Borgman's assistance, and by the middle of 1976 the NPS received permission to place signs on the right- of-way within the Sheep Rock Unit. [19] During the following year state highway officials agreed to place directional signs on the right-of-way in all three units of the monument. [20]

Coordination with two Bureau of Land Management districts resulted in the issuance of special use permits for grazing on parcels in the Sheep Rock and Clarno units where the NPS previously agreed to allow this activity. [21] Without positive boundary identification, however, grazing could not be controlled on lands transferred from the state. Accordingly, Ladd made survey of the monument boundaries one of his main objectives so that fencing of lands in federal ownership could follow. [22] The NPS let a contract for survey of the Painted Hills Unit in 1976 and scheduled work to begin in the Sheep Rock Unit in early 1978. [23]

Ladd's other main objective centered on having something to show visitors. Interpretive planning at first emphasized visitor orientation at the headquarters in John Day along with placement of temporary wayside exhibits in all three units. [24] Other than a park brochure written under contract in 1976, little in the way of formalized interpretive services took place until the following year. [25] At that point Ladd reported that exhibits had been placed in the John Day office. These devices served over 4,800 visitors who stopped for information over the course of 1977. [26] In the field, seasonal interpreters began supplementing their periodic programs for community groups and schools with evening campfire talks that summer at the newly established Clyde Holliday State Park near Mount Vernon. [27] By far the most important event, however, occurred in May 1977 when the Cant Ranch visitor contact station opened.

In addition to being a place to which visitors could come seven days a week that summer, the ranch house also provided indoor display space. This allowed the NPS to justify its first significant museum acquisition, a fossil nut and seed collection it purchased in July 1977. [28] With this on display at the Cant Ranch, Superintendent Ladd could show visitors a tangible part of the fossil resource within the monument's boundaries.

The opening of the ranch house also signaled a shift away from headquarters as the place where the NPS made most of its visitor contacts. This came faster and in greater volume than planners originally anticipated, and stymied their efforts which previously focused on providing a means to interpret the upper John Day Basin from headquarters and at waysides. [29] By the end of 1977, Ladd cited "an ever increasing interpretive need" when he proposed to convert the monument's staff assistant position to that of an interpreter. [30]

Next> Acquisition and rehabilitation of the Cant Ranch

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Last Updated: 30-Apr-2002