AN AWKWARD START AND THREATS OF AN EARLY END
On October 31, 1994, the Mojave National Preserve became the newest unit of the national park system. Creating a new administrative structure to manage 1.6 million acres of land was a formidable task. The initial park staff borrowed resources, relied heavily on other agencies, and had to "make do" as best as they could. Politics made their task infinitely more difficult. After the CDPA became law, a congressional opponent attempted to cripple the park by providing an appropriation of one dollar to administer the Preserve. The future of Mojave National Preserve became embroiled in a drawn-out political fight, while park staff faced relocation, emotional trauma, and uncertainty about the future. They actively sought to create better relations with anti-park forces, laying the foundation for the survival of the Preserve. The crisis came to an end in April 1996, and it was clear that Mojave National Preserve would survive as a unit of the National Park Service.
After the CDPA conference report passed Congress, Alan O'Neill, Superintendent of Lake Mead National Recreation Area, was appointed Acting Superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve. Frank Buono, who had worked extensively on the transition, was named as his assistant. O'Neill spent as much time as possible on the Preserve, but his Lake Mead duties consumed his time as well. Buono likewise worked to resolve the mountain of tasks facing the brand-new institution. O'Neill contacted locals and inholders in the new Preserve, including the Oversons, the Blairs, and Dennis Casebier, and informed them about what to expect with the new park, with the hope of mollifying some of their worst fears. He also worked with BLM to transfer the budget and resolve administrative issues. O'Neill also represented the interests of the new Preserve at the meetings of the Desert Managers' Group, of which he was already an active member. 
The transition report prepared in 1993 emphasized the need for the Park Service to establish a management presence in Mojave immediately after passage of the CDPA. The two measures advocated by the report were the immediate dispatch of law enforcement to the area and posting of signs to indicate the changed status.  O'Neill brought a Special Events Team (SET) of rangers from other parks to secure the area; they operated from BLM's fire station at Hole-In-the-Wall and stayed during November 1994.  The SET team posted no-driving signs in the washes and patrolled the park for illegal activity. The appearance of these rangers caused tremendous friction and misunderstanding with the local residents. Mary Martin, an early park employee who became Superintendent in 1995, described the effect of the SET team:
The SET team's mission to secure the resources of the new Preserve was deemed complete, and the team left at the end of November 1994. Thane Weigand, a ranger from Lake Mead, and Joe Gerken, a seasonal ranger, were stationed at Hole-In-the-Wall to patrol the Preserve. On November 13, 1994, O'Neill hired two visitor use assistants. Ruby Newton worked out of the California Desert Information Center in Barstow, and seasonal Michael Marion staffed Hole-In-the-Wall. 
As soon as passage of the California Desert Protection Act seemed probable, the Park Service began organization of the first staff of Mojave National Preserve. Marvin O. Jensen served for more than six years as Superintendent of Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska when he decided that he would like one more assignment before retirement. His preference was for a desert park, hopefully Death Valley National Monument. When the California Desert Protection Act seemed assured of passage, Jensen accepted the superintendency of Mojave National Preserve offered by John Reynolds, Deputy Director of the Park Service.  Mary Martin, assistant chief personnel officer in Washington D.C., was approached in May 1994 by Reynolds to see if she was interested in becoming deputy superintendent of Mojave if the CDPA became law. After the passage of the California Desert Protection Act in October, Martin was assigned the task of working with Reynolds and Department of the Interior officials to choose the initial employees for the infant park. After negotiations between the Park Service and Department of the Interior (DOI) staff, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt named the first three members of Mojave's staff: Superintendent Marv Jensen, Deputy Superintendent Mary Martin, and Assistant Superintendent for Ecosystem Management Frank Buono, formerly of the Albright Training Center at Grand Canyon National Park who was then serving as Alan O'Neill's assistant for the Preserve.  On January 13, 1995, Jensen was formally appointed superintendent of Mojave National Preserve, marking the transition from interim management under Lake Mead National Recreation Area staff to the permanent team of Jensen, Martin, and Buono.  The new staff worked out of Lake Mead NRA headquarters in Boulder City, Nevada. Jensen described the interim arrangements:
The initial staff was top-heavy, relative to the budget of the park. The plan suggested by the Transition Action Report called for key leadership posts to be filled first, then other employees as expanding budgets permitted. Still, the budgetary implications of such a structure caused Jensen some concern:
Jensen and Martin arrived before their permanent appointments took effect and began the groundwork for the new park. They attended their first meeting of the Desert Managers' Group in Riverside, California, in late November 1994, and started to map Mojave's role in the impending planning efforts. This group was formed to promote ecosystem-wide management of the desert, by all of the various agencies involved with land management in Southern California. As part of Vice President Al Gore's "reinventing government" initiative and enthusiastically championed by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, ecosystem planning directed some facets of the early history of the park. 
The newly arrived staff also served as liaisons to pro-park locals. Many local residents were against the CDPA and disliked the Preserve at first, but some groups of local residents displayed their support of the new park. Peter Burk and the Citizens for Mojave National Park organized a reception for Mojave staff in Barstow on January 21, 1995. Six organizations, representing pro-growth coalitions from several area towns excited about the prospect of park-based tourism, presented resolutions in favor of the Preserve. Those from Barstow "invited" the Preserve to locate its headquarters there; the resolutions from Baker encouraged the National Park Service to create facilities in their hamlet as well. These park-friendly locals clearly appreciated the potential for economic activity that could come with a new federal organization. 
Other local residents vented their unhappiness with NPS control, especially after signs prohibiting commercial traffic through the park were constructed along roads leading into the Preserve. This action, though perfectly correct according to 36 CFR 5.6, was another public relations disaster.  Observers accused the Park Service of "marking its territory" and engaging in a land grab. Other residents were clearly worried about the implications of the ban on commercial vehicles that the signs' wording suggested. The regulations were designed to prohibit long-haul truckers from using park roads for a shortcut, but the signs were not carefully worded and appeared to prohibit all commercial traffic. This seemed to exclude dump trucks hauling away cinders from local mines, diesels with trailers that took cattle to market, supply trucks carrying groceries to stock the shelves of the Cima store, and even the tankers that delivered propane to heat and power homes in remote places in the Preserve. This perception only fed the flames of anti-Park Service rhetoric. Under intense pressure, the signs were removed. Reworded, they were posted again later, after a public education campaign clarified the spirit of the regulations.
One of the first tasks for the new park managers was to set up headquarters. By the 1990s, the NPS no longer constructed extensive headquarters facilities inside new parks, for fiscal and environmental reasons. Instead, headquarters would typically be established in the nearest town with sufficient services for park employees. Several places vied for the location of the headquarters of the new Preserve. The East Mojave National Scenic Area was administered from a BLM office in Needles, and that city was eager to receive the headquarters of the new Preserve as well. The 1993 transition report identified Baker as the nearest suitable location for offices. Barstow, though farther away, had a greater availability of housing and services. Jensen had worked in parks, such as Glacier Bay, where the availability of housing was a significant issue in attracting and retaining quality employees. He chose to site the Preserve's future headquarters in Barstow based on the availability of services, housing, and freeway access there. 
Mojave continued to expand its complement of personnel. George W. "Bill" Blake was transferred from New River Gorge NRA to become the park's first Chief Ranger, and formally assumed his duties in early March 1995. His wife, Bettie Blake, was hired as secretary for the park. Two more seasonal rangers were added the same month.  The growing staff moved out of Lake Mead National Recreation Area's headquarters and into shared space at the BLM office in Barstow on March 13, 1995. It was easier to plan for a Barstow headquarters from a temporary location in the same city, but the NPS staff did not have space to call their own. Park files were stored in the back of Martin's Volvo, and the entire staff shared a cubicle with a BLM wildlife biologist. "We'd take turns at the desk, on the phone," recalled Martin. 
The work of setting up a new park was difficult, often in unexpected ways. Lake Mead NRA provided administrative services to Mojave, but was located some 170 miles from the Barstow offices. Procuring essential supplies was difficult, making it a challenge to find a pen or photocopy a document. This difficult working environment slowed down the work of headquarters staff until Dave Paulissen, the park's first Administrative Officer, was hired in June 1995.  Mary Martin suggested that community relations may not have received enough attention because of the struggle to create the park's structure. To her, the lesson was clear:
Despite the hardships, staff made important decisions. Frank Buono led the effort to convert BLM rights-of-way to NPS standards, a time-consuming administrative task. In some cases, companies tried to take advantage of the change of leadership. Molycorp, a rare earth minerals mine on the boundary of the Preserve, wanted to replace a portion of its freshwater pipeline, which ran within a right-of-way on NPS land. The company asserted that the NPS had no authority over its activities in the right-of-way, and refused to submit an Environmental Assessment for the replacement project. The Preserve made it clear to the mining company that no work could be performed without an environmental assessment. Under heavy pressure, Molycorp admitted the right of the park to regulate rights-of-way on NPS land, and submitted an EA for the project in late 1994, which was approved the following month. 
This period in the BLM offices in Barstow also saw the groundwork laid for a number of important projects that later came to fruition. In April 1995, Martin spoke at the Death Valley Natural History Association meeting and successfully persuaded the group to become the cooperating association of Mojave National Preserve, in addition to Death Valley National Park. The association formally voted in early June to finalize the agreement. 
Mojave staff worked to find and equip a more permanent headquarters site in Barstow. Co-location with BLM staff was a positive initial step recommended by the Transition Action Plan developed before the passage of the CDPA, but the reality of the situation was that the BLM simply did not have enough space to share.  The Mercado Mall, along Barstow's Main Street, stood more than half empty and could meet the anticipated space needs of Mojave headquarters. The Park Service leased six suites for a total of $120,000 per year. An open house and reception were held on May 22, 1995 to mark the formal opening of the facility.  The small first year budget for the park allocated no funds to furnish the space, so several employees, including David Moore and Gordon Reetz, the newly-hired members of the planning team who arrived May 15, 1995, scrounged furniture, computers, vehicles, law enforcement gear, and other supplies from government surplus warehouses in the area. Moore recalled one furniture hunting trip, where he felt "very self-conscious" arriving in front of Lake Mead NRA headquarters in a yellow Ryder truck only two months after the Oklahoma City bombing. Marv Jensen and Martin resurfaced and finished a wooden conference table, found in a surplus yard, for the new Mojave headquarters. 
As the headquarters took shape, additional staff fleshed out the Preserve's administrative structure. Marcia Schramm arrived to take charge of Mojave's human resources needs in July 1995, as her husband Dennis Schramm took the helm of the planning program. Doug Scovill, Chief Archaeologist in the Washington D.C. office, wanted to finish his career in the field. In March 1995 he planned to transfer to Mojave as the head of cultural resources, but work in Washington delayed his arrival until August 6.  Dave Paulissen, the park's first Administrative Officer, transferred to the Preserve in June 1995, but some administration functions were handled by Lake Mead staff through the end of the year. The park's staff grew rapidly, in line with growth expectations voiced as early as 1993 in preliminary planning documents. Many members of the expanding staff were higher-level employees, hired with the expectation that rapid staff growth would soon fill in lower-level positions.  The limited budget and rapid staff growth exacerbated office administration. Paulissen remembered that even basic equipment was difficult to procure:
A flurry of permit applications for various mining operations proved to be an early headache. James Wood of the Park Service's Geologic Resources Division spent almost three months with the Preserve helping with the workload, but Buono and Martin also shouldered much of the burden. Temporary permits to continue operations until the end of calendar 1995 were issued to nine active operations. Mojave received four plans for new mining operations in the park, but only one, a gravel pit for the 7IL Ranch, received approval. The most controversial rejected proposal came from Pluess-Stauffer, a Swiss company that sought a huge open pit calcium carbonate mine in the New York Mountains. Pluess-Stauffer claimed that the low economic value of the deposit made open-pit mining the only economical method of extraction, but Superintendent Jensen rejected the plan because of the impacts that an open pit would have on the park. 
Early cultural resources efforts were assigned to staff of the Pacific Great Basin Support Services Office and the Denver Service Center or handled by Lake Mead National Recreation Area staff. Much of this early effort was directed at the Kelso Depot, including the preparation of a Historic Structures Report of the railroad building by NPS historian Gordon Chappell, Bob Carper, and others. Lake Mead staff conducted some early mapping around Kelso and also coordinated archaeological compliance for two ranching waterline projects.  When Doug Scovill arrived in August 1995, the park benefited enormously. Scovill monitored cultural resource and desert tortoise compliance procedures, set up the first database of archaeological information for the park, and participated in several interagency cultural resources efforts, including setting up a common database standard so that cultural resource data from across the California desert could be entered in the state's database as it was collected. 
Mojave National Preserve soon acquired its first interpretive employee. Kirsten Talken was reassigned from the Washington office as Mojave's first permanent interpretive ranger in May 1995. Talken helped develop and direct early interpretive programs, which included school presentations, community outreach, and visitor contact centers at Hole-in-the-Wall and Baker. Interpretive resources developed by other nearby NPS units proved easily adaptable, and helped the Preserve get high-quality interpretive programs underway quickly.
In August 1995, the park unofficially opened the Mojave Desert Information Center, at the base of the World's Tallest Thermometer in Baker, California. A formal opening ceremony took place the following month. Talken can be credited with much of the work necessary to bring the center to fruition. At the Baker facility, Talken and a cadre of seasonal employees sold materials provided by the Death Valley Natural History Association, and handed out information to passing tourists. Low initial visitor numbers were attributed to lack of highway signage.  Baker, a town of less than one thousand residents astride I-15 and Kelbaker Road, the most important road into the Preserve, coveted the center. Some early planning for the Preserve considered Baker the best location for park headquarters, but the hamlet lacked sufficient infrastructure to serve the Park Service's needs.  Once it became clear that Baker would not be chosen for headquarters, members of the local growth coalition, including Willis Herron, owner of the Bun Boy restaurant and the driving force behind the construction of the Tallest Thermometer, actively sought location of a park facility in the town. In addition to the visitor facility, the Park Service acquired the former California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) housing compound in Baker in August 1995. This facility, consisting of five mobile homes and several other structures, allowed the park to house interpretive and ranger staff closer to the Preserve itself and centralize its maintenance and supply operations. CalTrans donated the buildings to the NPS, and BLM developed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which allowed the Preserve to keep the structures in their current location on BLM land. Talken and Ranger Brian Willbond set up the first Baker park office in one of the CalTrans trailers. The park also leased a mobile home in Kelso from the Union Pacific Railroad to house a law enforcement ranger at that location. 
Protection of the Preserve from fire was a top priority of the Park Service. Because the Preserve's size and isolation, the Park Service could not rely on mutual-aid response by other agencies to reach emergencies in time. The park received $68,000 in special funding, directed through the fire management program at Joshua Tree National Park, to set up basic fire protection. NPS negotiated an agreement with the BLM to jointly staff and operate the BLM's existing fire station at Hole-in-the-Wall. Ken Smihula and James Argon, BLM fire employees at Hole-in-the-Wall, worked very closely with NPS personnel to set up the joint fire program. Mary Martin led the effort to "figure out how to buy a fire truck," and the new heavy wildland apparatus was in service before 1995 ended. 
The Preserve received an additional $10,000 in special funds to set up a fee collection system at the park's two developed campgrounds. The park installed drop boxes for fee envelopes, and purchased cash registers and safes for the money. The initial fees were reasonable - ten dollars per night at Hole-in-the-Wall, and half that amount at Mid Hills - and the park collected $440.50 during September 1995, the first full month of operation. 
At the end of the first fiscal year of operation, Mojave National Preserve consisted of eleven full time employees, three members of the planning team, and seasonal workers. The park could not afford maintenance staff; salaried staff had to perform basic maintenance, such as collecting trash in campgrounds, and more complex tasks were contracted to other entities. A glance at the organizational chart revealed a top-heavy administrative structure that was primed for expansion. The following year staff expected to double the final operations budget for FY95, which was only $660,000 transferred from other accounts and special authorizations.  Rather than the rapid expansion and easy growth envisioned by some Park Service personnel, the following year saw Mojave at the center of an ugly political brawl, fighting for its continued existence as a National Park Service unit.
Last Updated: 05-Apr-2004