Agate Fossil Beds
Administrative History
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The First Calendar Year of Operation, 1966

Positive developments characterized the first month of 1966 as Agate Fossil Beds National Monument officially became an operating unit of the National Park System's Midwest Region. [1] President Johnson's fiscal 1967 budget to Congress recommended $137,200 for an access road, parking, office trailers, and picnic area developments as well as $231,200 to acquire 2,679 acres. The administration's budget projection for Agate Fossil Beds totaled $411,700. [2]

Another change in leadership occurred when Lon Garrison transferred to the directorship of the Northeast Region in Philadelphia, and Fred Fagergren, former Superintendent of Grand Teton National Park, came to Omaha to head the Midwest Regional Office. Acting Regional Director Harry Robinson assured Margaret Cook that the Region was awaiting approval from Washington on the Master Plan, but was proceeding with appraisals "so we will be ready to move on land acquisition when funds become available. We are still working for an early start at Agate, and hope to get moving soon." [3]

Following a February 18 review, Acting Director Howard Baker approved the Master Plan, but some reservations were noted. One concern involved staffing levels which appeared excessive, but with other built-in controls and limitations, the plan was not altered. Criticism of the headquarters development layout (that it be closer to the fossil beds, not near the ranch) was also voiced, but a consensus opinion held that the final evolution of the design would come only through the San Francisco Planning and Service Center planning process. [4] The approved Master Plan established the following visitor use objectives:

To encourage maximum appropriate visitor use of all Area resources, through development of the outstanding paleontological features; interpretation of the several resources, personal services and optimum provision of facilities for the safe use of the Area.

To encourage and facilitate research use of Monument resources by qualified individuals and agencies.

To make maximum appropriate use of facilities.

To focus primary patterns of use, in priority order, on: the major paleontological resources, with emphasis on the story of paleontological research and excavation and the related geologic context. Secondary emphasis will be focused on the Indian ethno-history derived from Captain James Cook's association with the Oglala Sioux and their chief, Red Cloud.

To coordinate visitor uses and facilities with those for the western Nebraska-eastern Wyoming region, including both local and state, and federally administered Parks, Monuments, Recreation Areas, and Historic Sites. [5]

Resources Management objectives follow:

To base conservation of Monument resources on the best possible plans and programs for their utilization and management, on sound research-based knowledge of all resources.

To maintain all resources and physical facilities in a fashion to insure their longest useful life.

To complete adequate identification and evaluation of Monument paleontological resources.

To identify and evaluate the historic ranch and Indian ethnohistory resources for their selective preservation and use.

To limit the scope of Monument museum collections to appropriate paleontological, geological, biological, archeological and historical objects and materials directly related to Monument resources.

To define limits of development commensurate with optimum preservation of Monument resources.

The present ranching scene may be retained within the Monument boundaries where it does not detract from preservation and visitor enjoyment of the Monument's primary resources. [6]

Finally, principal management considerations focused on two points:

To establish an operational administrative unit, to include lands containing the paleontological resources and sites necessary for development of facilities, as soon as possible.

To accomplish all research and development required for optimum visitor use and conservation of the Monument's resources; with special attention to the interpretive challenge involved in the on-site presentations of the Miocene fossil quarries and their contents. [7]

With park objectives firmly established, the Master Plan delineated policy into specific cases. Lands known to contain primary paleontological resources were targeted as priority-one for acquisition for both monument establishment and resources protection via boundary fencing. A complete paleontological-geological survey was necessary to identify primary deposits and record them on a base map. Excavation at the "Devil's Corkscrew" (daemonelix) burrows would determine their extent and uncover fossilized evidence of their theorized beaver occupants. Reliefed fossils, sheltered as soon as exposed, should be thoroughly researched, catalogued, and adequately housed. Quarry permits would not be issued until research indicated the location, nature, extent, and optimum visitor use potential of the area. [8]

Identification and evaluation of historical and archeological resources was essential. Historical investigation of early trails through Agate, the establishment and development of the ranch (with historic structure reports prepared for selected buildings), paleontological activities, and the ethno-history of the Oglala Sioux and Chief Red Cloud relating to Captain Cook was required. Additionally, the Cook Collection should be researched and catalogued. An archeological survey would locate and evaluate sites, [9] most of which had already been identified by the local landowners.

In the area of natural resources, the Park Service would have to consult with Nebraska officials to ascertain the State's long-range goals for cyclic poisoning of the upper Niobrara to remove rough fish in favor of trout. Grazing by permit in areas not affecting visitor use or resource development would also be beneficial in fire prevention as well as facilitate equitable land acquisition. Hunting was of course prohibited by the Code of Federal Regulations. Intrusive structures on acquired lands, including roads and other developments, should be removed and the natural landscape restored. [10]

Master Plan provisions for visitor use and enjoyment required adequate entrance signs at the north and south boundary crossings on Nebraska 29 and a directional sign to the visitor center-headquarters area at the county road junction. The place for fee collection, if approved, would be at an entrance station or visitor center. Monument orientation would come in the form of a free folder, an exhibit, and personal attention by a uniformed employee at an information desk. [11]

Probably because of the uncertainty over Margaret Cook's right to donate land from her life estate, the Master Plan negated all previous discussions for a facility at the Agate Springs Ranch. The plan called for a multi-purpose structure to house a visitor center, headquarters, and the Center for Continuing Paleontological Research as provided in the authorizing act. Including all exhibits and collections, the facility would be constructed in the "Headquarters Developed Area"—the Niobrara valley north of Carnegie and University Hills. A minimum of five permanent residential units and eight seasonal apartment units obscured by landscaping was proposed adjacent to this facility. A road would connect this complex to a parking lot at the base of the quarry hills from where foot trails led to the reliefed fossil shelters. Another road to the Stenomylus quarry would be built when reliefed fossils could be seen there, while a spur off the county road could take visitors to the "Devil's Corkscrew" area. [12]

Development plans for the Agate Springs Ranch depended on historical and archeological research. In the interim, no development was planned, but interpretive signs describing area significance could be placed at the ranch. Because the average visitor stay did not surpass two-hours, no overnight accommodations or other services were required, although those wishing to eat prepared lunches could use the picnic grounds at the Agate Springs Ranch. [13]

As for administrative concerns, the Master Plan called for Agate Fossil Beds to function as a Group A Management unit. Principal authority was vested in the Coordinating Superintendent of Scotts Bluff National Monument with the Midwest Regional Office providing facilitating and technical services Daily operation of the monument was the responsibility of the resident Management Assistant with authority for management and administration, resource management and visitor protection, and interpretation and visitor services. Specialized site-specific duties relating to research, preparation, display and care of paleontological resources would come under the purview of the Museum Geologist (Vertebrate Paleontologist). Personnel and fiscal affairs, procurement, and property management would be handled by Scotts Bluff. It suggested the coordinating concept* be expanded to include Fort Laramie National Historic Site to form a regional complex under the Superintendent of Scotts Bluff National Monument. [14]

*The coordinating concept was not seriously contemplated by Midwest Region officials. The idea became impossible in the early 1970s when the State of Wyoming fell under the guidance of the newly-created Rocky Mountain Region with the Regional Office in Denver.

A final provision of the 1966 Master Plan established park priorities for action:

Priority I: Acquire lands necessary for an administrable unit.
Recruit initial staff.
Complete required paleontological, historical and archeological research.
Find and develop adequate water supply.
Prepare interpretive prospectus.
Establish and mark boundaries.
Proceed with interim programs, Headquarters Developed Area (temporary trailers and utilities, etc.)
Prepare Headquarters Developed Area Plan.
Priority II: Roads, trails and parking.
Provide permanent physical improvements (Visitor, Resources and Staff).
Provide visitor interpretive programs.
Utilities (completion of systems).
Boundary fencing.
Priority III: Complete staff programs.
Provide protection programs.
Provide publications.
Train employees.
Complete land acquisitions.
Provide on-site interpretation of Oglala Sioux ethno-history at Agate Springs Ranch. [15]

Superintendent Richard Holder and Management Assistant Albert Werking attended an April session of the Sioux County Commissioners to lay the groundwork for a cooperative effort for reconstruction and relocation of the county road within the park boundaries. [16] After a meeting in early May, Assistant Regional Director for Operations Harvey B. Reynolds recommended the county relinquish its ownership rights to the government in exchange for an adequate road in the approximate location. [17]

Upon the recommendation of Richard Holder that the Park Service not share space with the Agate Springs Post Office for another season, an office trailer—the interim visitor contact station—was delivered to the ranch on June 2. Seasonal Park Ranger William W. Taylor was onsite June 6 to assist Albert Werking during the 1966 visitor season. Other seasonal workers included Laborers Carl O. Nelson and Charles S. Upp who helped Ray Wyrick of the San Francisco Service and Planning Center conduct a topographical survey. Exhibits for the trailer, prepared by the Region's Interpretation and Visitor Services Division, arrived June 16 and were installed by the laborers. [18]

The same men, assisted by student aids, helped Archeologist Jackson W. Moore with preliminary excavations at the quarries. On temporary assignment from Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site, Moore arrived on June 13. His mission was to determine the extent and position of the remaining fossil deposits in order for planning and site location of interpretive facilities to proceed. Moore was joined on June 19 by Dr. Ted White, Paleontologist from Dinosaur National Monument, along with Regional Archeologist Dr. Wilfred Logan and Acting Regional Maintenance Chief Charles Novak. At Mrs. Cook's request, two men intimately familiar with past Agate excavations also came: Dr. Ray Lemley, paleontologist, rancher, and retired surgeon from Rapid City, and Morris Skinner, geologist and head preparator for the Frick Laboratories of the American Museum of Natural History. Both promised to supply all records of their Agate findings to the Park Service. Others involved in the work were Dr. Craig Black, Carnegie Institute; Dr. Haus de Brunze, the Netherlands; and Jean Allen, University of Nebraska. [19]

More than 3,000 visitors came during the season. Those who expressed an interest were shown an audio/slide presentation. Some came in search of fossils and/or agates, others to hunt and fish. Many were misled by the AAA Motor Club and National Geographic Society which listed the newly authorized monument on 1966 maps. A recording in the handwritten daily log explained:

Still have visitors who are disgruntled by the premature placing of Agate Fossil Beds National Monument on the maps. Many are obviously reading into news releases—news that isn't there. Most are immediately cooled off when they find that there are no fossils. Sure are pacified when directed to the Corkscrews. Unquestionably to see and touch the fossils at the beds is it and until we have that—we have disappointed the visitors. [20]

At season's end, a weekends-only policy began at the visitor contact trailer, but visitation dropped so low that a Sunday-only schedule was adopted. [21]

Approval of construction drawings of the headquarters developed area was delayed when Holder asked that a drive-up fee collecting station be attached to the principal facility. [22] The drawings were then approved by Regional Director Fred Fagergren on August 31, subject to further study on the location of an exhibit-in-place structure. [23]

The Assistant Regional Director for Development* declared in mid-October that a structure in the immediate fossil quarry was not feasible because of the steep terrain and the extensive construction-related damage to the site. The in situ display could either be at the quarry parking area or at the headquarters site in the Niobrara valley. With slight visitation and a small work force, one facility would be more efficient. [24] The opinion represented one of many in the on-going planning process.

*An effort to match a name with this title proved unsuccessful.

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Last Updated: 12-Feb-2003