Nez Perce
National Historical Park

Administrative History


CHAPTER FOUR:
VISITOR PROTECTION

Nez Perce National Historical Park's unusual pattern of land ownership has tended to shape its program of visitor protection. All but a handful of park sites are outside the Park Service's jurisdiction. Park visitors may travel hundreds of miles while touring the park, but with few exceptions they are not driving over park roads; consequently, traffic safety is a relatively minimal concern in this unit of the national park system. Once they are out of their cars, park visitors are exposed to relatively few safety hazards. The park administration has taken the precaution of closing the riverfront at the Spalding unit to public swimming (there are some dangerous currents, and one boy drowned after jumping off the Old Spalding bridge in the park's early years). [193] It keeps the grass mown around the Heart of the Monster in order to protect visitors from rattlesnakes. [194] Aside from managing these natural hazards, most of the park administration's visitor protection program consists of law enforcement.

In the park's early years the NPS had proprietary jurisdiction over two sites: Spalding and Canoe Camp. Both were donated to the NPS by the State of Idaho in July 1966. Proprietary jurisdiction meant that the NPS could normally expect assistance from the local sheriff and the state patrol, each based thirteen miles west of the Spalding unit in Lewiston. The Spalding unit included an established picnic area used extensively by local and out-of-state visitors. To Superintendent Burns, several prior incidents of misconduct in the picnic area seemed to justify "a vigorous policy of protection to both property and visitors." Burns maintained that on several occasions during the summer of 1966 members of a gang of 20 to 25 ex-convicts had invaded the picnic area and involved themselves in "numerous incidents of disorderly conduct, questionable nocturnal activities, drinking parties, fighting and various degrees of objectionable disturbance." In addition, many visitors had reported property stolen from their parked vehicles or from their picnic tables. [195] Burns used these reports to get authorization to purchase two .38 caliber revolvers for the park. [196] Park Historian Earl Harris was commissioned a deputy sheriff in 1967. [197]

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, recreational use of the picnic area at Spalding continued to underpin the development of law enforcement in Nez Perce National Historical Park. The picnic area's popularity grew at a phenomenal rate for reasons that had little to do with the national historical park. Other recreational sites in the region were being inundated by new reservoirs created on the lower Snake River. Until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed replacement recreational sites at the new water line on these reservoirs in the mid-1970s, the picnic grounds at Spalding remained the only green, shaded, public use area convenient to Lewiston. Indeed, it was claimed that the 15-acre picnic area was the largest such facility in northern Idaho. [198] As a result, official estimates of the number of visits at Spalding grew from a little under 33,000 in 1968 to more than 225,000 in 1972. Most of these people came to enjoy the shade and green grass rather than the historical resources or Park Service interpretive program. [199]

Superintendent Williams was confronted with the frustrating and unpopular task of assigning his seasonal interpreters to duties that were more consistent with a national recreation area than a national historical park. His frustration was apparent in his annual report for 1972:

By far the most frustrating and energy-absorbing problems in 1972 have been traffic control and crowd management at the Spalding unit. To a large extent, these may be considered facets of the same problem. Visitation topped 210,000 this calendar year - up 144% from 1971 and up more than 400% from 1968.

The available organized parking will accommodate 350 vehicles at one time. Six hundred vehicles or more were present at any given instant between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. on a total of 11 weekend days in July and August. On three weekend days and two holidays the peak load was in excess of 700 vehicles; on Labor Day it exceeded 850 vehicles, creating hazardous conditions on more than a mile of Park and adjacent roadways.

A 200-car temporary parking area was opened in June 1972. This prevented a still more serious problem but minimum standards of traffic control and pedestrian safety were violated at least 30 days out of the May 15 through September 10 visitation period.

In the Spalding picnic-recreation area visitor densities on at least five days reached concentrations approximating one visitor for each 85 square feet, roughly the space over an 8' x 12' rug! [200]

Such high visitor densities inevitably brought with it a tide of accidents, petty offenses, and misdemeanors — problems such as littering, fender benders, off-road use by trail vehicles, weight-limit violations by commercial vehicles, firearms violations, poaching, and abuse of controlled substances. To cope with this unforeseen situation, Williams took two actions. First, he had two rangers deputized by the county sheriff's department, obtained a law enforcement vehicle, and closed the park at night. [201] Second, he worked on implementing the U.S. Magistrate System for Nez Perce National Historical Park. This process took some five years to accomplish.

The Park Service had adopted the U.S. Magistrate System for the first time in 1968-69 in the Southeast Region (principally in eastern Virginia). The system operated on the basis of a "Uniform Fee Schedule" for law violations that would be agreed upon by all federal agencies in an area and approved by the senior judge in that judicial district. The system allowed law enforcement agents to issue fines without requiring court appearances by the violator, who in most cases would admit guilt and remit the fine required by the Uniform Fee Schedule by mail. [202] The plan met with some resistance from the U.S. attorney in Boise, but was finally implemented on July 1, 1974. [203]

In the meantime, the park staff was burdened with an increasing number of case/incident reports, citations, and follow-up court appearances. In 1972 alone there were 110 case records. The most notorious case involved an assault on two rangers, Glenn L. Hinsdale and Steven T. Kernes, by two brothers named Fry. Kernes tried to interpose himself in a drunken brawl and Hinsdale came to his aid. The rangers were outnumbered and surrounded, both received punches, while verbal threats made by the Fry brothers, their father, and others in the crowd brought about "near-riot conditions." [204] The Fry case represented the most serious law enforcement incident in the park's history.

Use of the picnic area for large parties and social functions continued through the late 1970s, but concerns about visitor safety gradually diminished. A "Crime Prevention and Physical Security Plan," prepared for the park in 1979, stated that crime was not a major problem. The report characterized the situation as "a low level of minor, but annoying, vandalism incidents punctuated by infrequent but more serious incidents involving property damage or loss. Crime against persons are rare while crimes against property predominate." Between 1974 and 1979 there were 282 case/incidents reported. Most consisted of minor traffic offenses and parking violations. [205]

In the early 1980s traffic congestion, together with the general effect of large crowds on the historic resources and character of the place, assumed greater importance. Protection of the visitor experience overtook protection of visitor safety as the major focus of the program. In 1982, Superintendent Whittaker closed a small parking area on the east side of the picnic area and removed the asphalt in order to eliminate a major source of traffic congestion. This reduced the amount of manpower devoted to traffic control. [206] Whittaker also implemented a reservation system, a maximum load level, and land use zones that aimed to isolate the picnic area from the historic resources. Further, she tightened enforcement of the Code of Federal Regulations relating to pets within the park. In the superintendent's statement for management, Whittaker observed that recreational use of the picnic area in the middle of the historic site constituted a major conflicting use which ultimately must be addressed by relocating the picnic area elsewhere. [207]

In the past ten years, NPS officials have periodically reevaluated the law enforcement presence in Nez Perce National Historical Park in light of the park's minimal land base and proprietary jurisdiction. When the NPS adopted its new "Law Enforcement Guidelines" (NPS-9) in April 1984, it raised the standards for commissioned officers. Park Rangers Ken Adkisson and Albert Barros would need regular target practice on a firing range in order to maintain their commissions. At that time Superintendent Whittaker insisted that the park would meet these requirements, if necessary by sending Adkisson and Barros to another park for law enforcement training, because "the new Visitor Center and museum collections are too valuable to be without this kind of protection." [208] The park prepared a new manual, "Law Enforcement Guidelines, Nez Perce National Historical Park," in response to NPS-9 in 1985. [209]

Superintendent Weaver was requested to review a further change of NPS policy with regard to ranger commissions in 1987. Weaver suggested that Nez Perce National Historical Park was not in need of a criminal investigator (GS-1811) position but neither could the park do without one commissioned ranger position, and he warned against too much specialization in the service's law enforcement function. [210] Again in 1990, Superintendent Walker was requested to reassess the park's law enforcement needs. Walker concluded that it was still desirable to have a law enforcement commissioned ranger on the park staff. Despite the small number of law enforcement incidents, "the threat to visitors and resources is real," Walker insisted. "Given our logistical situation with scattered, isolated sites containing significant cultural and historical resources, maintaining an NPS law enforcement presence offers us the only feasible way to ensure protection and integrity." [211] This resulted in another file report, "Law Enforcement Needs Assessment, Nez Perce National Historical Park," prepared by Chief Ranger Jan R. Dick. [212]

Walker augmented the park's visitor protection program with two significant staff appointments in 1991-1992. In 1991, Walker hired a seasonal park ranger, Teresa Seloske, for the White Bird Battlefield unit for the first time in the park's history. Seloske established a base of operations in the Forest Service building in Grangeville. Her presence in the area yielded new information about visitor use patterns, and discouraged vandalism of the interpretive shelter — a recurrent problem at the White Bird unit. [213] The second significant appointment, in April 1992, was Mark O'Neill as chief, natural resources management and visitor protection. O'Neill professionalized the park's law enforcement arm. He oversaw improvements in the level of medical emergency services that the park could provide, and helped the park acquire a Model 42 light-engine fire truck, which was equipped to respond to wildland fires and to provide limited support for fire suppression. [214]


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Last Updated: 01-Jun-2000