National Park Service

State of the Park Reports

State of the Park Report for Big Hole National Battlefield

Executive Summary

Historic Nez Perce Camp Site at Big Hole National Battlefield
Historic Nez Perce Camp Site at Big Hole National Battlefield

The mission of the National Park Service is to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of national parks for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. NPS Management Policies (2006) state that "The Service will also strive to ensure that park resources and values are passed on to future generations in a condition that is as good as, or better than, the conditions that exist today."

As part of the stewardship of national parks for the American people, the NPS has begun to develop State of the Park reports to assess the overall status and trends of each park's resources. The NPS will use this information to improve park priority setting and to synthesize and communicate complex park condition information to the public in a clear and simple way.

The purpose of this State of the Park report for Big Hole National Battlefield is to:

  1. Provide to visitors and the American public a snapshot of the status and trend in the condition of a park's priority resources and values;
  2. Summarize and communicate complex scientific, scholarly, and park operations factual information and expert opinion using non-technical language and a visual format;
  3. Highlight park stewardship activities and accomplishments to maintain or improve the State of the Park;
  4. Identify key issues and challenges facing the park to help inform park management planning.

Click on the links below to see more information.

Big Hole National Battlefield (BIHO) was the site of a battle on August 9–10, 1877 between the U.S. Army with Montana citizen volunteers and the Nez Perce people and their allies. The battle was a key event within a five-month conflict in which the army, intent on moving the Nez Perce to the Lapwai Reservation in Idaho, pursued roughly 800 men, women, and children across 1,170 miles from the Wallowa Valley in Oregon to the Bear Paw Mountains, just 40 miles from the Canadian border in northern Montana. Along the way, the two sides fought a series of confrontations during which scores of people were killed, including soldiers, citizen volunteers, and Nez Perce men, women, and children. Exhausted, cold, and hungry, the remaining Nez Perce surrendered at the Battle of Bear Paw on October 5, 1877.

The Big Hole National Battlefield site was set aside from development as a five-acre national monument through a June 23, 1910 executive order signed by President Taft. The site was originally administered by the War Department and later the U.S. Forest Service, and jurisdiction was transferred to the NPS in July of 1933 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Passage of Public Law 88–24 on May 17, 1963 allowed for expansion of the now 200-acre site to include roughly 455 additional acres, and conversion of the site from a national monument to a national battlefield. Acquisition of these additional lands was not fully completed by the NPS until 1972, at which time the Big Hole National Battlefield totaled 655 acres.

In 1992, Big Hole National Battlefield became an administrative unit of Nez Perce National Historical Park (NEPE), which was established in 1965 to facilitate protection and provide interpretation of sites in the "Nez Perce Country" that have exceptional value in commemorating the history of the nation. NEPE is non-traditional because it is not a contiguous tract of land but rather a conglomerate of small sites. These sites depict the historic role of the Nez Perce people in the westward expansion of the United States and include, but are not limited to, historic buildings, missions, battlefields, cemeteries, archeological sites, geological formations and trails. The purposes of all 38 units of NEPE, including Big Hole National Battlefield, are to:

  1. Facilitate protection and offer interpretation of Nez Perce sites in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Wyoming that have exceptional value in commemorating the history of the United States.
  2. Protect and preserve tangible resources that document the history of the Nez Perce people and the significant role of the Nez Perce in North American history.
  3. Interpret the culture and history of the Nez Perce people and promote documentation to enhance that interpretation.

Since the battle, Big Hole National Battlefield has been recognized and honored both as a historic site and as a memorial for those who lost their lives in the battle. The site was entered on the National Register of Historic Places when the register was first created in 1966. The National Register nomination establishes national significance of the site for its association with events beginning in 1877 that have bearing on our national history.

The people and culture of this park are inextricably tied to the natural resources in the area; it is impossible to separate them. The location and condition of natural resources such as the meandering river and dense willow riparian vegetation, the floodplain meadow where the Nez Perce encampment was located, and the open hillslopes overlooking the river, were fundamental to the way that the 1877 battle itself played out. The National Battlefield today is surrounded by ranching operations and the Beaverhead National Forest, but retains much of the character of 1877 when Colonel John Gibbon's forces attacked the Nez Perce at their camp next to the North Fork of the Big Hole River. Today, the natural sights, sounds, and scents of the Battlefield landscape frame the tragic history of the site, providing visitors a profound "sense of place." Visitor experience is therefore fundamentally dependent on the condition of Battlefield natural resources as well as the cultural resources and park infrastructure, all of which are summarized in this report.

The list below provides selected examples of stewardship activities and accomplishments by park staff and partners to maintain or improve the condition of priority park resources and values for this and future generations:

Natural Resources

  • Partnership with U.S. Forest Service and Beaverhead County to manage weeds and invasive plants
  • Working with Upper Columbia Basin Network Inventory & Monitoring team to incorporate monitoring results into vegetation management strategies
  • Pine beetle tree removal from siege area and howitzer trail and pheromone placement on Douglas fir to combat beetle kill

Cultural Resources

  • Oral history project
  • Archeological site condition assessments
  • Museum management plan
  • Historic Resource Study converted into book

Visitor Experience

  • New Exhibits
  • Coyote Camp
  • Daily ranger-led tours out onto the battlefield

Park Infrastructure

  • Visitor center rehabilitation – New cold-roof system and atrium
  • Installed wheelchair-accessible ramps and vault toilets in lower parking area

Big Hole National Battlefield has accomplished much during the past few years, but underpinning all is the continuing effort to build and improve relationships with tribal partners. This is nowhere more apparent than in the recently-concluded planning process that led to the creation of the new exhibits at the park. The Nez Perce People were heavily involved in all aspects from initial discussions on the need to replace and update exhibits, through design, fabrication and installation. In addition, the park has also strengthened partnerships with Nez Perce National Historical Park and the local community. This has allowed the park to accomplish a number of important resource, visitor service, and park infrastructure projects essential to the long term preservation and interpretation of the battlefield.

The park has moved to the forefront in creating a unique visitor experience. The story of Big Hole is one of great tragedy, a clash of cultures and the resiliency of the human sprint. The park staff, working with tribal partners, is able to tell the story of a people and what happened to them here, and how these people are still a thriving community. With new ideas and new products, the park's interpretive staff is reaching out to both new audiences and those that have been here many times before. The strong partnership with the Upper Columbia Basin Network inventory and monitoring team has enabled the park to better integrate cultural and natural resource management. Park interpretive staff is also better equipped to incorporate natural resource information into Battlefield interpretation.

As the park moved into the new century, almost all of the park facilities were old and simply worn out. Over the last few years, with financial assistance from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the NPS Repair and Rehabilitation program, the park has greatly enhanced its infrastructure. These improvements not only affect the visitor's experience in the park but have saved park resources and have contributed towards reducing the carbon footprint of the park. This goal of updating the park's infrastructure continues into the future with new projects as funding becomes available.

Looking into the future, the park will continue to build its relationships with the tribes, the community and Nez Perce NHP. It will use those relationships to maintain and expand upon the solid foundation that has been built, all of which make Big Hole National Battlefield exemplary within the National Park System.

Summary Table

The Status and Trend symbols used in the summary table below and throughout this report are summarized in the following key. The background color represents the current condition status, the direction of the arrow summarizes the trend in condition, and the thickness of the outside line represents the degree of confidence in the assessment. In some cases, the arrow is omitted because data are not sufficient for calculating a trend (e.g., data from a one-time inventory or insufficient sample size).

Condition Status Trend in Condition Confidence in
Assessment
Condition of resource warrants significant concern Warrants Significant Concern Condition is improving Condition is Improving High confidence in the assessment High
Condition of resource warrants moderate concern Warrants Moderate Concern Condition is unchanging Condition is Unchanging Medium confidence in the assessment Medium
Resource is in good condition Resource is in Good Condition Condition is deteriorating Condition is Deteriorating Low confidence in the assessment Low

Examples of how the symbols should be interpreted:

Resource is in good condition; condition is improving; high confidence in the assessment. Resource is in good condition; condition is improving; high confidence in the assessment.
Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment.
Condition of resource warrants significant concern; trend in condition is unknown or not applicable; low confidence in the assessment. Condition of resource warrants significant concern; trend in condition is unknown or not applicable; low confidence in the assessment.
Priority Resource or Value Condition Status/Trend Rationale
Natural Resources
Climate Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. Precipitation and temperature are key drivers of natural resources conditions at BIHO, which is characterized by long, cold winters and cool summers. Above-average spring rainfall and moderate temperatures, particularly in 2010, have provided favorable growing conditions for focal species such as Lemhi penstemon and camas lily. No trends away from long-term averages are discernible. Learn more »
Air Quality Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. For 2005–2009, estimated values for ozone and visibility in Big Hole NB warrant moderate concern based on NPS Air Resource Division benchmarks. Air quality is in good condition for estimated sulfur and nitrogen wet deposition levels for 2005–2009. Learn more »
Water Quality Resource is in good condition; trend in condition is unknown or not applicable; high confidence in the assessment. The Upper Columbia Basin I&M Network (UCBN) recently began to monitor water quality at BIHO. Water temperature and pH were within State standards, but dissolved oxygen levels fell below the regulatory threshold (8.0 mg/L) on 97 of the 106 monitoring days (92% exceedance). A Hilsenhoff Biotic Index of 4.23 for aquatic macroinvertebrates indicates that water quality is good. Learn more »
River Channel Resource is in good condition; trend in condition is unknown or not applicable; medium confidence in the assessment. The UCBN monitoring program began monitoring of river channel characteristics and the riparian plant community in the North Fork Big Hole River in 2012. A natural resource condition assessment conducted in 2009 provided evidence that the channel and riparian vegetation is in good condition. Learn more »
Vegetation Communities Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is deteriorating; high confidence in the assessment. The willow-dominated riparian zone and adjacent floodplain meadow, and the open steppe hillslopes and pine forest overlooking the Battlefield, are key cultural landscape plant communities. Overall condition of these three communities is good, but worrisome trends in invasive weeds have been reported. Lodgepole pine encroachment into the open hillslopes is an ongoing cultural landscape issue requiring management intervention. Learn more »
Invasive and Nuisance Species Condition of resource warrants significant concern; condition is deteriorating; high confidence in the assessment. Spotted knapweed abundance and distribution is increasing in the open hillslopes, as is the number of infested acres of Canada thistle in the floodplain meadow. These infestations present a serious threat to the largely intact native plant communities that contribute much to the Battlefield's sense of place. The mountain pine beetle outbreak in the lodgepole pine forest has resulted in tree mortality that is a serious concern to park managers. Scientists predict that 75% to 90% of the pine trees in the park may be killed by this outbreak in coming years, and the park has begun removing beetle-killed pine trees in the Siege Area of the Battlefield. Learn more »
Species of Management Concern Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. BIHO is globally significant for having the largest reported population of Lemhi penstemon, a rare endemic flowering plant dependent on the open steppe hillslopes. The size of the penstemon population appears to be stable or perhaps slightly increasing, but the reproductive vigor of the population may be in decline. Camas lily, a key food source for the Nez Perce that was harvested in the floodplain meadow prior to the 1877 battle, is increasing in abundance at an annual rate of ≈ 6%. The number of flowering camas plants, a measure of reproductive vigor and a contributing resource to visitor experience, is stable. Learn more »
Cultural Resources
Tribal Relations Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is improving; medium confidence in the assessment. The park is working hard to maintain and strengthen relationships with the Nez Perce People. The park routinely consults with the Nez Perce Tribe, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and the Colville Confederated Tribes on matters involving park operations, management, and planning. These consultations occur on multiple levels and the results of these efforts greatly enhance and shape park management direction. Learn more »
Cultural Anthropology Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is improving; medium confidence in the assessment. The park is finishing a two-year oral history project with representatives of the Nez Perce Tribe, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and Colville Confederated Tribes. The purpose of this project is to work in partnership with Nez Perce descendants who live on three different reservations in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington to record family histories, songs, dance, and other cultural manifestations that are derived from Nez Perce participation in the battle of the Big Hole during the Nez Perce conflict of 1877. Learn more »
Archeological Resources Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. Surface archeological surveys have been conducted for the entire park, and five recorded archeological sites occur within the NPS boundaries of Big Hole National Battlefield. All five sites are currently in good condition. Site condition assessments are scheduled on a rotating basis with a five-year return interval. All sites are currently stable with the potential for disturbance and threats to site integrity very small. Learn more »
Cultural Landscapes Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. A detailed cultural landscape inventory for Big Hole National Battlefield was completed in 2008. The landscape is currently in good condition.
Learn more »
History Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. The park has accumulated a robust historical research collection pertaining to the Big Hole battle. The NPS has also completed many of the baseline historic documents needed to properly manage and understand the battlefield site. Learn more »
Museum Collections Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. Except for those items currently on exhibit, all BIHO museum objects and archive collections are stored at the Nez Perce NHP museum storage facility near Lewiston, Idaho that is maintained by a professional museum staff. The NEPE facility meets all federal standards as established through the NPS Museum Handbook. Learn more »
Visitor Experience
Number of Visitors Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is deteriorating; high confidence in the assessment. Average number of visitors entering the visitor center was 25,749 per year for 1999–2011. For the past five years (2007–2011), average annual visitation was down 14%, to 22,122. Fiscal years 2010 and 2011 saw dramatically decreased visitation, likely due to visitor center renovations. Learn more »
Visitor Satisfaction Resource is in good condition; condition is improving; low confidence in the assessment. Based on the standard visitor satisfaction survey conducted each year, the percent of visitors satisfied was 99%, and 100% for 2008 and 2009, then decreased to 80% in 2010, and increased to 94% in 2011 and back to 100% in 2012. The visitor center renovation that began in 2010 contributed to visitor dissatisfaction in that year, and the index has since increased now that renovations are complete. Learn more »
Sense of Place Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. Big Hole National Battlefield is located in a beautiful expanse of green, fertile land surrounded by often snow covered mountains. Through it flows the North Fork of the Big Hole River. Wildlife abounds and the fishing can be excellent. But the beauty and peacefulness of the land conflicts with the events that occurred here in 1877. Standing in the encampment area or looking out from the howitzer site, one can feel the sorrow that still inhabits the land. It is the combination of the beauty and the sadness that defines this place. Battlefield natural resources are generally in excellent condition, a major contributing factor to the sense of place and visitor experience. Learn more »
Educational and Outreach Programs Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. The number of school groups coming to the park has increased, partially due to the creation of a new educational opportunity entitled "Coyote Camp." The park has increased the number of demonstrations and tours offered to the public, but attendance at programs was down by 50% in 2011, possibly because of the visitor center renovations. Learn more »
Park Infrastructure
Overall Facility Condition Index Resource is in good condition; condition is improving; high confidence in the assessment. The overall Facility Condition Index for 45 assets for FY12 is 0.039, which is Good based on industry and NPS standards. Learn more »
Energy Consumption Resource is in good condition; condition is improving; high confidence in the assessment. Energy consumption (BTUs per gross square footage of buildings) at the park in 2012 was 7.3% lower than the average for the previous 4 years. Learn more »
Water Consumption Resource is in good condition; condition is improving; high confidence in the assessment. Water consumption at the park in 2012 was 16.3% lower than the 4-year average for 2008–2011. Learn more »
Park Carbon Footprint Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. The park has undertaken several climate change mitigation measures to reduce its carbon footprint. Emissions from park operations during the baseline year were roughly equivalent to that for 11 households. Learn more »

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Last Updated: April 29, 2014 Contact Webmaster