Chapter Eight: Conclusion
Major changes have occurred at Whitman Mission over its 47-year history as a unit of the National Park System. Expanded from 45 acres in 1940 to 98.15 acres by 1960, the increase in acreage allowed many important developments that were impossible to accomplish during the park's early years. The small 1600-square-foot adobe hut that served both administration and visitors beginning in 1941 was replaced by a modern visitor center-administration building in 1963. The park residence and utility buildings were also placed on the additional land bases; their presence reduced the risk of vandalism after hours. Construction of an access road from the state highway, also a project facilitated by the land purchase, increased visitation.
The larger, more developed park brought more responsibilities and, together with the increased visitation, required more employees to manage operations. Not only did the staff increase from one permanent employee in 1940 to nine permanent and numerous seasonals in 1987, but the characteristics of those workers changed after 1970 to include increasing numbers of women and minorities. This enlarged and diversified staff made feasible special projects that were beyond the capabilities of the earlier one-and-two-person staffs. Interpreters phased out guided tours in favor of cultural demonstrations, superintendents became more involved in off-site projects, and the maintenance crew switched from mowing the Great Grave area to plowing the fields for revegetation. Employee responsibilities once crossed divisional lines--maintenance workers guided tours, interpreters cleaned restrooms--but duties are more specialized today. Nevertheless, it is not unusual for interpreters to stuff envelopes for administrators or for the maintenance crew to answer visitor questions. Although the staff has doubled since 1964, and duties and responsibilities increased because of the aforementioned Mission 66 development, one aspect remains the same: the staff remains a tightly-knit and interactive group dedicated to running the park.
Throughout the park's history, certain issues remained relevant to each administration and will likely remain relevant in the future. The following outlines these recurring issues.
While the relationship with neighbors at any park is a long-term concern, Whitman Mission is neighbor to many individuals who have lived next to the park their entire lives. Their homes have been in their families for generations--some had ancestors who homesteaded the area in the 1880s. As a result, issues concerning the neighbors, such as water rights and water usage, have been and will remain particularly sensitive topics.
Reconstruction of the mission buildings, although effectively vetoed in the past, continues to spark the imaginations of visitors and administrators alike. A highly controversial issue, this question will demand the attention of present and future Whitman Mission personnel.
An issue not addressed in this history, but one that certainly perplexed every maintenance manager and crew, is the problem of gophers. Especially at a site like Whitman Mission where much of its interpretation is based on archeological ruins, gophers can be particularly destructive. While the present method of trapping these rodents appears to keep them out of the sites, future administrators would surely welcome a solution to this problem.
An issue especially important to interpreters, although of interest to the entire staff was, is, and will be, the park's purpose--Why does the National Park Service commemorate Marcus and Narcissa Whitman? Why does the park exist? This history reviews the opinions of scores of administrators, officials, and employees concerning this issue. It will be up to future administrators to decide for themselves.
Whitman Mission's administration developed slowly, progressing in broad stages according to the available funding, manpower, and needs of the park. The park's administrative history may be interpreted as a lineal progression: the archeological phase gave way to planning and research, this planning and research resulted in construction and interpretation, which, in turn, required the development of expanded interpretive and maintenance programs, and which are subject to continual evolution and refinement with each new superintendent and administrative thrust with the advantage of hindsight provided by this history, and some insight into future service directions, the future emphasis of each division may be predicted.
Little change in the interpretive program is anticipated. Rangers are comfortable with the format and visitors enjoy the cultural demonstrations and movies. However, short talks given in the museum may occur for both school groups and the general public depending upon the museum revisions. Producing a video-audio tape of the Whitmans and the park is also a possibility.
The maintenance program very effectively keeps the park's appearance up to standard. The revegetation program, if successful, should reduce the need for weed-pulling and increase the need for monitoring the growth of the rye grass and other native vegetation. If these new grasses affect the water supply, then this potentially volatile issue will be reignited. Overall, the maintenance division will spend more time monitoring the park's grasses and eliminating the noxious weed growth that has plagued the park since its creation.
Whatever changes are implemented in the future at Whitman Mission, they are likely to be limited, focusing on finding new ways to improve upon the site's existing programs and systems.
Did You Know?
The Whitmans’ mission was important to early Oregon Trail travelers. Those who were sick, tired, or hungry or who needed a wagon fixed would make the side trip to the mission. Some would spend the winter with the Whitmans before continuing on to the Willamette Valley.