Administrative History
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The signing of the Memorandum of Agreement at Navajo National Monument was the pivotal moment in the history of the monument. It terminated the set of problems that existed prior to the acquisition of the 240 acres allowed under its terms, but created entirely new issues in its wake. The memorandum began the transformation of Navajo into a modern park area, complete with capital facilities, large numbers of visitors, and most of the amenities of the rest of the park system. The memorandum also restructured the relationship between the park and the Navajo Nation, highlighting and changing the close relationship between the park and the people of the western reservation.

This agreement served as the catalyst for the implementation of the MISSION 66 program at the monument. By effectively enlarging the monument by 240 acres on the rim of Betatakin Canyon, the memorandum provided space in which the Park Service could construct the kind of park facilities that had become typical in the park system. Perhaps rushed by the need to get the proposed program underway during the halcyon days of MISSION 66, the interim agreement was less than the Park Service wanted. But it had the impact that all agreed was essential. An ostensibly temporary move, it offered permanent advantages.

The memorandum also formalized existing ties with the Navajo Nation, in effect putting the park on the same level as the Navajo people. The implementation of MISSION 66 at the monument injected large amounts of money into the region and provided numerous economic and employment opportunities for Navajo people and others. As the catalyst for increased visitation, the memorandum also helped transform the economy of the region.

Navajo National Monument had always been dependent on the people who lived nearby. The agreement formalized that relationship at the exact moment that Navajo people began to feel a greater sense of empowerment. As a result, the NPS sometimes felt the animosity directed at mainstream America in general, complicating relations between two increasingly interdependent communities. After 1962, the Park Service had to move carefully.

With the rapid advent of MISSION 66, the monument experienced rapid growth that almost overnight gave the park modern facilities and responsibilities. The change in level of management was difficult because of the figurative distance that had to be covered. A rapid transition to modern park management fraught with difficult decisions in a changing administrative climate followed.

When MISSION 66 for Navajo National Monument debuted, it offered a comprehensive program of development for the monument. The prospectus instituted direction in a manner that had never before been attempted at Navajo. The detailed proposal planned an entire range of visitor facilities and services, construction, maintenance, and staff. But in the era before the Memorandum of Agreement, the program was a wish list. Chief among the needs articulated in the prospectus was more land. Only when it was acquired could development progress. [1]

The implementation of MISSION 66 at Navajo had begun slowly. Because of the clear sense among park people at the national, regional, and local levels that there was not enough room at the monument to begin a comprehensive program, the Memorandum of Agreement accelerated a process that had been previously stifled. The rapid growth and development of the monument was a result. So was a marked upgrading of the services and facilities available at Navajo National Monument.

Conditions at the monument before the beginning of MISSION 66-funded development had changed little since the 1930s. Former Ranger Bud Martin recalled that during his stay in the early 1960s, a diesel generator supplied electrical power for the park. The situation for park employees was typical of remote areas. The only residences for park personnel were the stone superintendent's house, built in 1939, one hogan, and three old small trailers. Martin, his wife, and two children lived in one 27-foot trailer. "We considered it an adventure," he wryly remarked many years later. [2]

Visitor facilities were as rudimentary. The visitor center was a small one-room cabin just below the superintendent's house. Most of the time it was unmanned, and if no one was there when visitors arrived, there was a written greeting that told them they could see the ruins if they walked the Sandal Trail. A shelf held a pair of binoculars visitors could borrow, but after someone walked off with them, the practice was discontinued. There was no need for law enforcement at the time, and the one gun on the premises was a World War I-issue pistol, most likely not fired since, that was locked in the safe. Postcards were for sale; anyone who wanted one could just take it and leave the money. People could also sign up for a tour down to the ruins, but as Art White recalled, "the rationale then was that anybody that would drive out over that goddamn road had to really want to get to [the ruins] . . . if they were that interested in it, they weren't going to tear it up." A six-unit campground existed, the only accommodations available at the monument. The trading post at Shonto was the only place to stay.

One object of visitor attention was the home-made shower at the monument. Monument personnel and visitors showered in a canvas-covered area made of upright poles that had two fifty-five gallon drums of water heated by the sun. There was a hand-held nozzle that stemmed from the barrels with holes poked in it to increase the flow of the water. By the early 1960s, most needed little other than the shower to remind them of the remote situation of Navajo National Monument. [3]

Even after the Memorandum of Agreement, MISSION 66 began slowly. Although spending for development began at Navajo in 1962, 1964 was the first year in which the appropriation was large enough to make an impact on the park. Prior to 1964, MISSION 66 expended just $30,000 at Navajo. Most of the funding went for small-scale projects, such as house trailers in which permanent and seasonal rangers could live. Getting even that relatively small amount took energy and persistence. Art White consistently turned in blank pieces of paper as his reports on activities at the monument. He correctly assumed that this would catch someone's attention. But a coercive maneuver did more good. When Eivind T. Scoyen, associate director of the Park Service, made a southwestern swing in the early 1960s, White took the opportunity to make a pitch for Navajo. Scoyen tried to avoid making a visit across the newly paved highway, but White prevailed upon Regional Director Thomas J. Allen to bring Scoyen to Navajo. Unhappy about the visit, Scoyen arrived in a bad mood. But White carefully arranged a tour and a walk to Betatakin for the assistant director. After Scoyen visited, more than $1.5 million for Navajo appeared in the next NPS appropriation. Many of White's peers expressed admiration for White's prowess and surprise at his success. [4]

The real expenditures followed 1964. Between 1964 and 1966, the monument received and spent more than $1.5 million of MISSION 66 money. As the development program moved forward, its cornerstone, the new visitor center, became more than a gleam in the superintendent's eye. A 9.3 mile approach road from the east was planned to finally give the monument a paved access road. Other projects included employee residences and trailers, a power system and a utility building, and water and sewer systems. The combination of facilities, amenities, and resources altered the very nature of the experience of visitors to Navajo National Monument.

One factor was the marked increase in visitation that resulted from the paved roads through the western reservation. Prior to 1960, it was a long trek to Navajo National Monument. It was too far from civilization, over which cars had to travel too many washboard-like dirt roads. But pavement to within fifteen miles of Betatakin Canyon nearly doubled the number of visitors. In 1959, recorded visitation totaled 3,053; only two years later, in 1961, the number reached 6,175. In 1963, visitation reached 10,832, only to nearly double again to 20,401 after the opening of the new paved approach road (U.S. 564) in 1965. [5]

Responding to the increase in visitors required tremendous growth in the number of staff members. The hiring of Smokey Lehnert in 1958 inaugurated a period of rapid growth. At the time, the superintendent and ranger usually could expect two seasonal rangers in the summers. In 1965, merely seven years later, there were five full-time permanent staff people, including the superintendent, the chief ranger, two more rangers, an administrative assistant, and laborers. There were also four seasonal rangers each summer, providing an ample staff for the level of visitation.

The development of the monument was a process that went through stages. The acquisition of land through the Memorandum of Agreement inaugurated the transformation, and the construction of the primary capital facilities, the visitor center and the paved approach road, followed soon after. The final stage involved incorporating the changes into the day-to-day activities of the monument.

The agreement was only a catalyst for change, not its cause. Plans to develop the monument predated the acquisition. Both the visitor center and the paved approach road were in the works before the memo; both were dependent on the acquisition of land. The need for a real visitor center had been expressed in 1952 when John J. Aubuchon first created a museum at the monument. [6] Throughout the 1950s, Art White recognized that the encroachment of the modern world would change the level of service that the Park Service had to deliver. The prior efforts of the staff at Navajo contributed to recognition of the need. But the list of agency priorities, the limited resources with which to meet them, and the lack of space at Navajo in which development could be implemented slowed the process.

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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006