Nez Perce
National Historical Park

Administrative History


Big Hole National Battlefield and the Unit System

Big Hole National Battlefield had a long association with Nez Perce National Historical Park that predated the Nez Perce National Historical Park Additions Act of 1991. In fact, the national battlefield predated the national historical park by many decades. The 1877 battlefield site was set aside as a military reserve in 1883 and designated a national monument in 1910. It was transferred from the War Department to the National Park Service in 1933 and placed under the administration of the Yellowstone National Park superintendent. Expanded from 5 acres to 195 acres by executive order in 1939, Big Hole Battlefield remained virtually undeveloped until Mission 66. The Mission 66 program for Big Hole Battlefield provided for the construction of a visitor center and administration building, development of trails, landscaping, and interpretive signs, and marking of the monument boundary. [366] Beginning in 1957, Yellowstone ranger Robert Burns was assigned to the area from June through September as the first on-site administrator of the unit.

Burns, who later served as first superintendent of Nez Perce National Historical Park from 1965 to 1968, thought that Mission 66 planning for Big Hole Battlefield was an important antecedent in the creation of the Idaho park because it awakened interest in the Nez Perce story. [367] He and Idaho historian Samuel M. Beal were instrumental in getting the Mission 66 program approved by a skeptical regional director. Burns also relayed to his superiors his strong impression that a large percentage of visitors to the Big Hole Battlefield were sympathetic to the Nez Perce cause, and this too seemed to consolidate NPS support for the unit as well as the Nez Perce National Historical Park idea. A visitor center was built at the battlefield in 1968. [368]

Big Hole Battlefield National Monument was redesignated Big Hole National Battlefield by an act of Congress on May 17, 1963. As amended in 1972, this act appropriated $42,500 for acquisition of approximately 466 acres of additional land (Figure 8). In 1987, certain administrative functions of Big Hole National Battlefield were transferred to Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site. [369] The Nez Perce National Historical Park Additions Act of 1991 included Big Hole National Battlefield within the park additions.

The act placed Big Hole National Battlefield in a somewhat anomalous position within Nez Perce National Historical Park. For example, Section 2 of the act expressly added Big Hole National Battlefield to the park, but it did not change the national battlefield designation nor annul this unit's own authorizing legislation. Indeed, the act directly acknowledged the site's dual status in its provision that "Lands added to the Big Hole National Battlefield, Montana, pursuant to paragraph (10) shall become part of and be placed under the administrative jurisdiction of, the Big Hole National Battlefield, but may be interpreted in accordance with the purposes of this Act." Moreover, the site retained its own base funding as a distinct unit within the national park system. The Big Hole National Battlefield superintendent and staff remained in place at the visitor center and administration building. [370]

Figure 8. Map of Big Hole National Battlefield.
(NPS map.)

It appears that Congress's intent was to allow the Park Service some latitude in formulating how this unit and the other Montana units would be administered. Indeed, NPS officials at the field level began conceptualizing how the expanded park could most effectively be administered several months before Congress finally enacted the legislation. Nez Perce National Historical Park Superintendent Frank Walker, Big Hole National Battlefield Superintendent Jock Whitworth, and Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historical Site Superintendent Eddie Lopez had been working together on the legislation since 1990. Walker believed that the most effective way to manage the Montana sites would be from Big Hole National Battlefield and the Rocky Mountain Regional Office. To avoid duplication of efforts between the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain regions of the National Park Service, certain parkwide administrative matters such as general management planning, interpretive planning, and relations with the Nez Perce Tribe could be handled out of one region.

Pacific Northwest Regional Director Charles H. Odegaard supported this concept and broached the prospect of a cooperative agreement with the Rocky Mountain Region on October 19, 1992, three weeks after the Senate passed the bill. Odegaard suggested that the two regional directors decide between them which region would take the lead. The first task of the lead office would be to prepare a memorandum for activation of the new additions. [371]

Even this arrangement proved to be unwieldy, however. In May 1993, Rocky Mountain Regional Director Bob Baker was helping conduct a Purpose and Significance Workshop for Big Hole National Battlefield when he realized that it was difficult to interpret Big Hole separately from the other sites in Nez Perce National Historical Park. In March 1994, Baker and Odegaard agreed to an exchange: the three Montana battle sites for the Oregon National Historic Trail. The exchange took place on June 10, 1994. Thus, the Montana sites were brought under the administration of the superintendent at Spalding. [372]

While Big Hole Battlefield and the farflung Montana sites posed the most immediate challenge to park administration, the sheer number of new sites in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington created more complexity too. Given the myriad number of land owners of the park's 38 sites, the NPS would need cooperative agreements with various state, local, and other federal agencies, four tribal governments, and several private organizations. For example, several sites were part of the Nez Perce National Historic Trail and would involve cooperative management with the Forest Service. It was approximately a five-hour drive from Spalding to Nespelem, Washington, and twice that from Spalding to the Bear Paw Battlefield in Montana. Such a complicated park could not be administered out of one or even two administrative locations. [373]

On January 13-14, 1994, the superintendents of Nez Perce National Historical Park, Big Hole National Battlefield, and Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site convened with staff from the Personnel Division of the Pacific Northwest Regional Office to revamp the park's organizational structure. In essence, the plan replaced traditional functional divisions with five management units based on logical clusters of sites. Each of these units would handle daily operations, cultivate local community support, and develop working relations with the park's partners in that area. Technical activities, planning, and overall coordination would be consolidated in a park-wide support unit based at Spalding. [374]

Superintendent Walker put this staff reorganization into effect in stages. The Oregon/Washington Unit was activated even before the unit organization concept was formally developed. Paul Henderson began work in August 1993 at Joseph, Oregon, as the park's first unit manager. [375] The following year Curator Sue Buchel accepted reappointment as unit manager of the Montana Unit. In addition to managing a permanent staff of five at Big Hole National Battlefield, Buchel had line authority to the park ranger at Bear Paw Battlefield. Park Ranger Otis Halfmoon established an NPS presence at Chinook, Montana and at the site. Meanwhile, Walker established the remaining management units at Spalding and Grangeville. Art Hathaway served as the manager of the Spalding unit, with primary responsibility for the visitor center operation, while Mark O'Neill became the manager of the White Bird and Upper Clearwater Units, with offices and staff in Grangeville. [376]

The unit management concept more or less reflected the contemporary regional reorganization of the national park system in microcosm. It was hoped that each management unit would function as a small park, enjoying a reasonable amount of autonomy for carrying out daily operations while benefiting from centralized administrative support services at Spalding. Superintendent Walker decentralized the administrative organization of Nez Perce National Historical Park at the same time that Director Roger G. Kennedy decentralized the administrative organization of the National Park Service regions. Both efforts were aimed at empowering employees, putting employees closer to the resources and the Park Service's constituents, and ultimately reducing administrative costs. Both plans drew inspiration from the objectives outlined in the report of Vice President Al Gore's National Performance Review, From Red Tape to Results - Creating a Government that Works Better and Costs Less.

The plan held both opportunities and risks. In order for the plan to work, the superintendent or park manager would have to supervise the unit managers lightly or else the employees in the field would only feel the weight of still another layer of bureaucracy overseeing their decisions. Unit managers, meanwhile, would have to demonstrate abilities to manage staff and develop professional relationships with a multitude of park partners, or, in other words, mirror the skills and responsibilities of the superintendent at a local level. The success of the plan would rest to a large extent on finding and retaining the right people for the unit manager jobs.

Yet with so many communities bordering on or surrounding the 38 sites that composed Nez Perce National Historical Park, decentralization of the park administration seemed to be an imperative. The benefits of having park staff on the ground from Joseph, Oregon, to Chinook, Montana, became apparent as the NPS began seeking public input in its scoping meetings for the park's new General Management Plan in the spring of 1995. Park staff looked to a future in which local communities would be more closely involved, and partnerships between the Park Service and non-government entities would be increasingly emphasized. [377]

Last Updated: 01-Jun-2000