Interviewer: Alright, so this is Kellen, here again, with good rangers, badlands. We’re going to be going outside the Badlands to get a fresh perspective. Who am I speaking with today?
Albert: You’re speaking with Albert LeBeau, I’m the Cultural Resources Program manager at Effigy Mounds National Monument in Harper’s Ferry, Iowa.
Interviewer: Awesome! And how would you describe that job using only hard to describe Park Service acronyms?
Albert: I’m a 0193 stationed at EFMO. Interviewer: Alright, let’s try it the other way now. How would you describe your job to someone outside the NPS, how would you describe your job to someone with no background who knows nothing about the park?
Albert: I’m the... so, Effigy Mounds National Monument, obviously, it’s an archaeological park, and we have mounds that are built by indigenous people about 2000 years ago. The 0193 is actually a archaeology series, so I’m actually an archaeologist by trade. And what I do here, is, I make sure no damage – no more damage – comes to the mounds and to the other archaeological resources within the park. And I’m also in charge of our museum collections and our park archives. That’s basically my job in a nutshell.
Interviewer: Sure. And so you are in the series, and just for folks that are listening and folks that don’t know, that is the point of emphasis or line for the job. So it’s classified under that larger umbrella of archaeology. What was your path to this position like? How did you get your start in the NPS or get your start in archaeology and how did it take you here?
Albert: It’s actually kind of an interesting story. When I was a kid, when I was younger, we took a family trip to see my grandparents who lived in Roswell, New Mexico. At the time we were living in Montana and so we drove down – a family of five in the early eighties in a big brown station wagon with wood panels and we drove down through New Mexico. And one of the places we stopped at was Mesa Verde. And, you know, I’ve always been kinda interested in history, but that’s when it really piqued my interest. And I had to have been five or six years old, but I still remember that trip, and I still remember the ranger, the interpretive ranger that was there. I don’t remember his name, but I remember the flat hat. And I remember making fun of the flat hat when I was younger, and low and behold, you know, forty some years later, I get to wear the flat hat now. Ultimately, it was that trip, and then going through school and learning about history from a perspective that wasn’t quite mine. One of the things that I am as well is an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe and so the stories that I heard growing up were different than the stories I was learning in school. So, trying to mesh the two was always a big thing for me. Trying to comprehend it. And so, as I got older, and things started to become clear, that I was only getting a partial telling of the American story, I started looking into what anthropologists do and what archaeologists do. And eventually, I chose the path of archaeology. And I’ve worked as a contractor, what we call a shovel bum, for quite a few years, doing cultural resource management surveys for oil pads and gas pads and timber sales and things like that. And in 2003, I was called home, called back to my reservation, by my tribe. And they offered me a position as a historic archaeologist. But that term has a different meaning at home because our history starts at the beginning of time. Not when written history was started, so I was in charge of our historic archaeologic aspects. And then later on, about 2004-2005, I was promoted to the tribal historic preservation officer, and I did that until about 2009. In 2007, I decided to go back to school to get my master’s degree. That’s where I actually walked up to the Midwest Archaeological center and said I want to be a SCEP. Can you help me out? And fortunately they had some money and were able to put me as a SCEP (which is now called Pathways – it's a different program) but I was one of the last people on the SCEP program and I retired from my position with the tribe in 2009. In 2007 I was working with the Park Service as a student trainee, and then in 2009-2010 I was finishing out my SCEP program. If you remember 2010, that’s when the big oil spill happened down in the gulf --
Albert: Because of my unique skill set, I was called down there to assist with their section 106 of the national historic preservation act issues they were having down there. So I was able to go down there and work as a representative for the historic preservation office for the entire incident. And I did that for four tours – and six months tours, I worked 21 days on and 3 days off... no... 21 days on and 2 days off. I wouldn’t recommend it! But the pay is pretty good. And then, during that time, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do in the Park Service. Did I want to stay at the Midwest Archaeological Center? Did I want to go to a park? Did I want to do something else? Did I want to leave the park service? I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I remember some rumblings happening at Effigy Mounds and I worked there in the fall of 2010 and the rumblings were still there. And I was trying to figure out, well, when I got back in 2011/2012 I called the new superintendent and said “I heard you’re looking for an archaeologist” and he said “I’m thinking about it.” I said “if you hire me I can fix your problems” and I gave him my information, and that’s how I got here. And it hasn’t been all rainbows and unicorns, there’s been some hard work done here, there’s been a lot of atrocities that happened here in the last 30 years, and the relationships that were built with our tribal partners were destroyed. And for good reason. And so, the other part of my job was to reestablish at least a working relationship with our tribal partners, and it’s taken us about – we're still working on it. We’re not done yet.
Interviewer: Yeah, that’s gonna be an ongoing process I would imagine. So I know exactly what you’re talking about, but I’d like to rewind and clarify for our listeners a few terms they might not be familiar with. You mentioned that you did section 106 work down in the Gulf. Can you describe that for people that might not be familiar with it?
Albert: Sure. Section 106 is obviously a section within a law of the national historic preservation act of 1966 that’s been amended numerous times. I think the last amendment was in 2005 and basically what it does is, we have to ensure that our actions, what we’re doing as a federal government, isn’t hurting or impacting or destroying a historic site. And that could be a historic site, or a historic fort, or an archaeologic site like an artifact scatter or a mound site. We have to take it into account and to show that we’re either going to protect or we’re going to mitigate the impact to that site. We’re just making sure that our actions aren’t destroying our nation’s history.
Interviewer: Sure, sure. I definitely have read up on it and am familiar with it but I know some listeners to the podcast – they might start to hear section 106 and their eyes start to glaze over but it’s really protecting what we should be protecting and respecting what’s already there. Not just, oh I don’t know, building a boardwalk over the top of it.
Interviewer: So, in terms of another acronym that you used – was SCEP. Could you explain that a little bit? It sound like when you were finishing up with school?
Albert: Yeah, so the SCEP program was the student career employment program and it was geared towards masters’ students. And what is was for, it allowed for assistantship through college or through your program. So basically, the park service paid for my master’s degree plus they gave me a job during the summer and during the school year as well to earn some cash to live on. Interviewer: They must have identified you as someone that they really wanted and it sounds like made the program work within that.
Albert: You know, I think they did, and I think I had some really good supervisors there and I learned a lot when I was at the Midwest Archaeological Center.
Interviewer: So, we’ve spoken from folks in a few different departments on this podcast. But we haven’t yet had someone from cultural resource management. So, could you both describe the larger umbrella, that larger community of cultural resource management in the NPS and then also hone in – and you’ve already talked about this a little – but hone in more specifically to those cultural resource management techniques you use at Effigy Mounds?
Albert: Sure. The bigger umbrella of it is we’re policy driven. So we have to know the preservation law that we’re responsible for. We’re responsible for NHPA, which is the national historic preservation act, we’re responsible for the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, we’re responsible for the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and a whole slew of others. And so we have to know the law and ensure that what we’re doing is within the law. I used to tease people and say “I’m part paralegal,” you know, I have to know the laws to do my job well and to ensure that I’m providing enough information for my superintendent to make an informed decision on how they’re going to proceed with whatever they’re going to do. And so, the tools we use (as you start whittling it down) -- we use, consultation, obviously, and we do that with our tribal partners. And currently at Effigy Mounds we’re working with 19 sovereign nations and we also work with the state of Iowa just to make sure that we’re not missing something, because we don’t know everything. And that’s something that’s really hard for an archaeologist to say – that I don’t know everything about this place. And it’s true. I don’t, and I won’t. I know the archaeology, but what’s the actual living culture behind that? I know the material culture, not so much the actual living culture. And so that I need help with. And I use, I ask for help with our tribal partners, and our state partners as well.
So that’s one of our tools. The other tool is using archaeology. And at Effigy Mounds, because we’re in basically a cemetery, we don’t want to dig into the mounds. And we’re kind of scared to dig anywhere around the mounds! Prior to me being here, back in the 1970s, the last full time archaeologist here put a moratorium on digging in the park – to dig for scientific study’s sake. Obviously, if there’s a project going on, and we need to test the area to make sure there is no archaeology that’s going to be impacted we’re able to do that, but these large excavations of mounds and mound groups he put a stop to. It was great foresight by that individual. And so, what we do now is we do a lot of remote sensing. I’ve been doing this for 20 some years now and I’ve always said I’m a dirt archaeologist, you know, I like being dirty! I like being dirty and stinky and digging square holes, but, with the new technology, we’re able to pinpoint and it’s not this needle in a haystack type of deal. We’re able to do large areas and pinpoint areas of concern that we can either mitigate or plain out avoid.
Interviewer: Sure. That sounds like that lets you fulfill both parts, right? You get to continue to monitor and also do a lot less physical damage to the area that you’re taking a look at to consider. That seems like a really effective use of technology. So you mentioned that there’s a huge – I think you said 19 sovereign nations – 19 tribes that you’re in consultation with? What do those kind of meetings look like? I have trouble getting two of my coworkers to agree with me on something, how does that aspect of cultural resource management work, when you have those consultations and when you touch base with local tribes?
Albert: One of the things that I do – and this is something I learned when I was on the other side of the table – is that my tribe, the particular tribe that I represented, never went to a consultation meeting, because I as the THPO (the tribal historic preservation officer), the person that they would – the contact for the federal agencies to contact about cultural resources for the tribe – I didn’t have the authority to speak on behalf of the tribe, nor did I want that. Interviewer: That’s a big responsibility!
Albert: A huge responsibility. When you’re speaking on behalf of 120,000 people that’s a big responsibility, and I’m not an elected official, so I shouldn’t have that responsibility! What happened was, we have biannual meetings, and what they look like is, basically, we give them information. They’re information meetings, we don’t put consultation anywhere on our meeting page. And the reason is because we, as the federal government, do not get to dictate on our tribal partners what they are going to consult on. They are a sovereign nation, they will choose what they consult on. Now, how does one do their job when you have something like that? Well, it’s tricky. Ultimately, it’s keeping a line of communication open with 19 different nations. We’re getting ready to do this project, do you have any concerns? And we just keep the conversation going. One thing about consulting with Indian tribes is that it never ends. It literally never ends, until the project is done. They can come in and, because of their sovereignty, say “hey, we have an issue with this. We want to take a step back” and as the government we have to, because that’s what the law says. But, it’s all about building that working relationship which we lost so many years ago. We’re finally to that point now, seven years later, that we can start having those discussions and move forward. We were stagnant for about three years when I first got here. Our partners wouldn’t let us do anything. Interviewer: For those that might not have the background, what was this event that ruptured their trust? I know it, everybody I work with knows it, but could you in your own words kind of describe it.
Albert: There were two major incidences that happened here at Effigy Mounds. The first one was a superintendent and a maintenance supervisor and an admin assistant basically ran the park. And they did whatever they wanted to do, however they wanted to do it, whenever they wanted to do it. The maintenance supervisor had this huge staff that would be building and doing all sorts of things that they never consulted on. They got called out on it by one of our tribal partners, and that spurred an investigation into what was going on. During that investigation, it was found out that there was something else that was happening. And that was the theft of 42 humans – the remains of 42 people – from the collections. And we had no clue where they were at. We got our internal park service police – investigative service – to investigate because it had to be an inside job. And what they ended up doing with a very dogged detective, he was able to track it down to a former superintendent, and he basically found the remains in his garage, which had been sitting there for about 20 years. And so, that was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back with our tribal partners, because we were hiding it. The National Park Service. Through a series of co-conspirators, the superintendent was able to keep it hidden. And when I got here, in 2013, the week before I got here, the other co-conspirator was fired. It was ongoing for 20 some years, because the other co-conspirator was working here at the park, throwing red herrings at us, or at the park, and trying to protect this former superintendent.
Interviewer: Almost impossible to imagine the difficulty of the job when you started. Obviously, it’s not you, it’s nothing you’ve done, but as you’ve said, the NPS was responsible. The NPS was the ones perpetrating these pretty heinous crimes, I see what you mean about it being more of a conversation.
Albert: And they really wouldn’t have believed us anyway. And I don’t blame them. One good thing about this whole investigation process is that, when we started looking into the remains – and actually the entire investigation process – is that our superintendent, the new superintendent that came in, who replaced the old one. Not the one who stole the remains, but the one after that, came in and said “everything’s gonna be open and transparent. We’re gonna be open and transparent for everybody.” And so what happened was that we were the first in the nation to have basically an ad hoc tribal committee look at everything. Every scrap of evidence. They had access to everything, nothing was held back from them, our proverbial slip was showing on how bad we handled both of these incidences. And ultimately, that was one of the first steps in trying to regain that working relationship. The other thing was having the US attorney for Iowa, his representative say “we have to convict him.”
Interviewer: That’s a big deal.
Albert: And long story short is, Thomas Munson, who was the former superintendent who stole the remains, he pled guilty to theft of government property. And that’s a whole 'nother webcast if you want to get into that. He was found guilty of the theft of government property. He had to pay 120,000 in fines and he also had to spend 10 consecutive weekends incarcerated and he also had to spend one full year – 365 days – in house arrest. It’s not what our tribal partners were hoping for but it was better than the slap on the wrist that the tribal partners expected. So, he had to pay and he had to serve time and he was a felon. And so that is what happened during the end of the investigation, that was the outcome of it.
Interviewer: And it really sounds like one of the places that really Effigy Mounds got turned around in this process was not having a dedicated cultural resource management person on site, or at least one that wasn’t taken out by a corrupt upper beauracracy. It sounds like that’s exactly the work you do in the present, is to prevent things like this, is to be in consultation and in communication and making sure the proper procedures are followed. Albert: Exactly. You know, what was happening at that time and the reason the co-conspirator was able to maintain the conspiracy was that it was – the cultural resource program was a collateral duty. She was in charge of the collections. So of course, you know they were gone, you helped the man take them out to his car, and yet, you’re sitting there lying for 20 years, saying “I don’t know what happened to them.”
Interviewer: Truly, an amazing, preposterous story. A lot of the answers don’t hold up under scrutiny.
Albert: And that’s one thing, we had the dogged investigator, who’s now our lead law enforcement officer. He took a demotion to come work for us, he left the investigative service bureau to come work for us at this park, to be a park supervisory ranger.
Interviewer: David Barland-Liles.
Albert: Right, David Barland-Liles. And that’s how much this park affected him and affected the assistant US attorney and the US attorney, actually, and this place does have an effect on people. Interviewer: Moving beyond that a little into a new topic, how has Covid-19 changed the work you’re asked to do in the park? Albert: Well, you know, it really hasn’t. We’re a small program. There’s myself, who’s the program manager, and then I have one employee who’s a museum technician. And basically, her main goal is the collections. She’s able to really keep a handle on everything, especially as we were doing the repatriation of those remains that were recovered. With Covid, the issue that we’re running into is consulation. How do we consult during a pandemic? Some of our tribal partners have been hit extremely hard, some of our tribal partners are still operating as normal, and so, to maintain an even keel, and to maintain fairness, we can’t just rely on the group of tribal partners who are active. So we’re basically on hold again, unless it’s emergency or a mission critical project.
On the day-to-day park aspects of it, the only real change is that I sit in front of this computer with a camera looking at me, and talking to people like yourself. I just got off a call with 44 other people... the interpersonal stuff, there’s no personal contact anymore, there’s no face-to-face meetings. At our park, right now, we’re at phase 2, which means our park is open but we have no visitor services. . And as for the work, the outside work – there's only two of us, so we can maintain a safe distance and we usually do about 4 meters apart from each other. The things we’re doing are remote sensing, so basically the museum tech – we have a ground-based laser scanner is the best way to put it – and it measures down to, I think, 10 micrometers; when you look at this stuff, you can see blades of grass. You can actually see veins in blades of grass. It’s amazing technology, but it only takes one person to actually operate it. And so, she can usually go and set it up and move it around and get all the data, and then from a safe distance she’ll give me the data card and then I’ll put it in my computer and start crunching data, which will take – we're talking, forty gigs, fifty gigabytes at a time to crunch data, and it’s actually pretty cool stuff.
Interviewer: And that’s all doable easily from a remote distance, so it sounds like that’s working out pretty well for you guys.
Albert: Again, the change is face-to-face meetings and consultations and things like that, and just trying to figure out – we're gonna do repatriation-type things in the future, and just try to get a grasp on things.
Interviewer: You and the rest of the world both! It’s a tough situation. So, a question I’ve been trying to make sure I ask everybody during these interviews, and I think based on your experience at Mesa Verde, you may have some really useful stuff to contribute here, is asking about this idea of, did you have the capital P capital R park ranger when you came to work at the NPS. And did that image, the one I’m talking about is kind of that classic interpretive ranger, the do-it-all, know-it-all kind of face of the park, did you have that image in mind when you got into the NPS, and how does it mesh with the work that you do now?
Albert: Yeah. I did, have that stereotypical, the stereotypical ranger picture in my head, and how that ranger whether male or female can do everything! The reality of it was, they can! We were half-staffed at my park. We had six full-time employees, since about 2013 really, and we had to do it all. I ran a snowplow in the wintertime, I’d jump on a lawnmower, I’d grab a chainsaw, whatever needed to be done we would do it. Clean bathrooms, scrub toilets, give tours. So we had to do it. Being a cultural resource manager, I knew a lot about the history of the park already, I had an in there, but I remember having our maintenance people down there giving tours. I remember our superintendent giving tours, or at least working the front desk. It was an all-hands-on-deck, we had to do it! Because if we didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done. How that evolved, now that we’re fully staffed? It took some adjustment and now I can really focus in on my job, which I wasn’t able to do when I was doing five other jobs, or six other jobs, depending on the day. Being with our visitors, we made sure that we portrayed that iconic ranger, and continued the stereotype.
Interviewer: They’re not all bad, right? The fact that you were able to step up and fill those different roles, it fits with that old do-it-all image of a park ranger, but it still happens today, especially like you were saying in smaller parks where there are these major responsibilities that need to be covered if you’re not completely staffed.
Albert: Especially in the off-season. When we have our seasonal rangers, we can relax a little bit – but we still had to be out there when we could. The off-season was when we were really pushed to our limits, which I always like because that’s something I like doing. I like learning new things.
Interviewer: Exactly! That’s how you keep growing, keep learning new stuff, taking on new roles. Sounds like your journey to the park and through the park let you do that. I’m sorry, go ahead. Albert: Although, I don’t think they’re gonna let me drive the plow anymore...
Interviewer: How come? What happened?
Albert: There might have been a curb that I hit...
Interviewer: Is there anything else you want to make sure that we get on record or anything, anything you’d like to share before we say our goodbyes and let you go?
Albert: Yeah, there’s just a couple things. One is that, you know, we’re a diverse agency. We try to be a diverse agency, and there are employee resource groups out there, and for the indigenous workers, we have the CIRCLE group, which I’m on the management team on that. So I always bring that up, but for just about every group of employees, there’s other employees that may be going through the same things that you’re going through, and there’s probably a group, and they’re probably talking about it, so don’t feel that you’re alone.
And the second thing is, learn to laugh at yourself! A lot! I do, all the time. It’s healthy, and if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, find a reason to enjoy it. You work for the National Park Service, you work at a park, if you work at a park, you work at a park! Go enjoy it.
Interviewer: Awesome, well Albert I want to thank you so much for your time, I’ve really learned some interesting stuff not just about your park but also about the NPS and some of the cultural resource management that goes on, seems absolutely critical to fulfilling our legal responsibility and doing what is ethically the right thing as an agency. So, thank you so much, and I’ll let you get back to your important work.
Albert: Thank you very much, I enjoyed it.
Interviewer: And with that, we conclude good rangers, badlands. I want to thank all of our guests for taking time out of their busy schedules as park rangers to join us here on this podcast, and I especially want to thank the team that worked together to develop this program and implement it, that’s Phil Molnar, Earl Perez-Foust, and Alex Ennes. I hope this podcast has given a window into the incredibly diverse and rich collection of employees that help make the Badlands, and in Albert’s case, Effigy Mounds, great, and how incredibly complex and varied the roles and responsibilities are of a ranger in the modern day. This is Kellen Shaver. Be good, even in the Badlands. Buh-bye.
Alex- ‘Hi Kellen, this is Alexandria Carrier, you can call me Alex.’ Interviewer- ‘Fantastic. Alex what’s your job title?’
Alex- ‘I am the museum curator for Badlands National Park and Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.’
Interviewer- ‘Oh wow so you’re the first ranger on this podcast whose work isn’t specifically focused only on the Badlands. Why do you serve that role as a curator for both Badlands and Minuteman Missile?’
Alex ‘Two fold -- part of it is because the two parks are so close to each other. It makes sustainable sense that the facilities here at Badlands are large enough to hold the collections for Minuteman Missile, which is much closer than, you know, Rapid City, uh here and it gives them an opportunity to have access to the collection for exhibit purposes, response purposes in case something happens, and general oversight. So, and that’s not atypical, there’s lot of other places that hold multiple park collections.’
Interviewer- ‘Interesting, it’s efficient in terms of time and space?’
Alex- ‘Time, space, cost of employment. So I am the only staff person who is permanently employed here at Badlands to manage the collection. And we typically, when there are other multi park facilities, is what they are called, although we aren’t technically a multi park facility because there are only two parks here. They both, they’ll basically consolidate the staff needs so that you can hire more specialized people to manage a collection as opposed to having the burden of employment cross multiple small parks that can’t necessarily get the funding for those positions, permanently.’
Interviewer- ‘Interesting. I knew that you worked for both, that explanation helps make a lot more sense. You have this specialized skill set and training and you can use that to assist both Badlands and Minuteman Missile with the technical work of curation.’
Interviewer- ‘Awesome. Alright now say that you have to describe the job that you do, using as many difficult to understand specific park acronyms as possible? How would you do that?’
Alex- ‘OOh. Can jargon count as well?’
Interviewer- ‘Oh please.’
Alex- ‘Perfect. Jargon, jargon, jargon.’
Interviewer- ‘(laughter) No pressure.’
Alex- ‘Well particularly, In the NPS the, I mean how do you abbreviate museum collections management into abbreviations, it’s not... Um, battle and me-me NPS collections manager of paleo-bio-geo-archeo-historicity, that’s a terrible statement. (laughter)
Interviewer- ‘No, hey I like it. You are answering the question in total. It’s a great, that’s a great lump of jargon. Let’s try swinging it over to the other side. So say you were at a bar or out to dinner, and you were talking to someone that had no experience with the NPS, with the curation work that you do, how would you describe your job in the simplest of terms to someone without that background?’
Alex- ‘I manage and care for the protection of historic and scientific artifacts that tell the story of Badlands National Park and Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, and I make sure that they don’t get lost or burn up in a fiery ball of flame. I make sure that there is a place for everything and everything in its place.’
Alex- ‘And if a person asks to see Badlands 86213, which is the catalog number, I could go to my catalog records and say ok its right here.’
Interviewer- ‘So you’ve talked about, in some ways by describing these different parks that you worked at, you have kind of compared Badlands to them, but what are some really critical distinctions between Badlands and say your work down in Florida or your work in Desoto, or Pullman, what are some critical points of comparisons to you, what makes this work at the Badlands different than you work you’ve done previously?’
Alex- ‘probably the most obvious aspect of it what be what the park collects as a whole, we have paleontology here, which I don’t believe any other parks that I worked at have any paleontology in the collections? So that was, that still is a real, a significant portion of the learning curve that I am in right now. I am not a paleontologist, I am not a biologist, a number of the things I have learned about, taxonomy, scientific specimens as a whole, I have learned on the job but that is part of probably being, working in museum collections for the National Park Services. No matter what job you take, every new job you have to learn something new because each park is so unique in its mission that the collections you manage and care for are just as unique. I think in terms of responsibilities of my job that is different here than compared to my previous positions are is the amount of administrative work that I have to do here. I also am starting the work of section 106, I review the section 106 requirement for compliance for projects at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site and I am starting to do that work here at Badlands as well.
Which means that the work that’s done on historic structures, like delta 1 or delta 9, have to go through a review process to make sure that we are not damaging or altering the historic features of a historic structure. Or that we are doing anything in the natural environment that would endanger natural or cultural sites of significance.
Interviewer- ‘One other question I had for you, it kind of ties in but maybe takes it in a different direction too, I have been asking folks, when people think of a park ranger they often have a specific image in mind. This capital P capital R, heroic, law enforcement slash EMT slash helicopter pilots slash biologists you know these almost impossible image of a park ranger. Did you get into the NPS with that image of a park ranger in mind and how does that idea mesh with the specific work that you do now?’
Alex- ‘Well, I mean as a kid we camped through and visited a lot of National Parks so obviously that image of the National Park ranger or the interp park ranger has this very iconic image like you said. So there is always that kind of thought process in my head but I think because the way I started, working with people in volunteer who weren't even in uniform, my concept of a park ranger was a more dynamic image. And one that I think has still continued through. I am a, my job title is museum curator. But my responsibilities is still being a park ranger. Part of that element is being a resource for both my fellow staff members, visitors when I on the odd chance that I do interact with them. When I am let out of my cave but I think for me the idea of the capital P capital R park ranger wasn’t so much a job title as a mission? And that is still very much what I do today. Part of a park rangers job is to protect and serve. And to also be a resource. I do all of those things I just do them in a different capacity. I protect the resources and the scientific integrity of the specimens once they come into my -- as people start to look into the park for collecting for resource purposes, I make sure they collect responsibly, if collecting is allowed, that responsible collecting is happening. That stewardship of those specimens and the research that goes into them, is being done well and that we receive a product from that research.”
Interviewer- ‘Shifting away from that a little bit, what are two of the coolest things that are in your collections that you are allowed to tell me about? What are, for visitors or for folks listening to the podcast what are two things that would just blow their mind that you have stored down there, I think as you described it, as your cave?’
Alex- ‘Yes, ooh. This is. So initially I was going with ‘Oh it’s our historic photograph collection’ but that’s not like one thing that is a lot of things. I would still kind of stick with that because what I love about the historic photograph collection we have is that those images were taken when Badlands was a National Monument, prior to when it was a National Monument, as it was starting to be you know, still wonderland, still moving towards this designation and you can go back and look at those photos and have an immediate, if you know where that photo was taken you can look at that picture and look at it was it is now and have an immediate this is what changed. And things have definitely changed in the Badlands, not just because of the geology it erodes really quickly, that’s definitely an aspect of it, but you know we have far more development. We have a road now that goes through the park and it didn’t always exist. We have photographs of that being constructed. We have the upkeep of the potholes. I mean just road maintenance alone is just this huge collection of images from the historic photo collection from when Badlands was a National Monument. And so in terms of that I think for me that’s a really cool element of the collection. I mean, I bet you were expecting me to be like ‘there’s extinct animals’ which is also very cool..’
Interviewer- ‘I try not to come to these interviews with prejudging or expectations, if its, cool to you its cool to me. Doesn’t have to be dead, old dead things that don’t smell.’
Alex- ‘Yeah -- the photograph collection for Badlands is probably one of the coolest things we have in the collection. From Minuteman Missile, the we have, we have a missile for one. That’s a pretty obvious one. There’s a missile in our collection.’
Interviewer- ‘But it can’t be active right?’
Alex- ‘Negative, it is not active.’
Interviewer- ‘Whoo yeah good.’
Alex- ‘Talk about an unexploded ordinance. But no it is not active. (laughter) the but in addition to the missile we got (pause) really at this point its trying to narrow down what isn’t blow your mind cool. But..’
Interviewer- ‘Yeah historical photos and missiles that works for me. Those are two pretty sweet things. So one question that I have been asking folks and from interviewing you there is a ton of different things that will fall under this umbrella for you, but what is something that really excites you about your work? When you get up in the morning or when you’re getting ready to start your day, what do you look forward to? What gets you going as a museum curator at Badlands and Minuteman Missile park and site?’
Alex- ‘What really excites me about my job is, it kind of goes back to when I was volunteering at Kirstenstead National Historic Site, I was working on this archives project and kind of had that epiphany, you must know that you love what you’re doing when you even enjoy the paperwork. And as boring and nerdy as that sounds, I love working with the paperwork of the museum collection because it’s a thankless task that most people don’t think about, but it’s integral to good collections management. Not everything that is collected inside the park is stored here at the park. We have limited resources and limited facilities so we rely heavily on other universities and other museums and other educational, basically other educational facilities, museums, collections that have more facilities or use and benefit from having collections, like a large portion of our paleontology collection is housed at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology at the museum of geology and that is a fairly common practice throughout the National Park Service and the Department of Interior to have these objects that would be in the collection stored elsewhere where they can be managed, used by researchers there and have some conservation work done by specialists in those fields. My responsibility is making sure that those facilities report to me. Every year during our inventory that I know we have active loan agreements with facilities across the nation and across the world. We have collections that are currently housed in England, for example.’
Alex- ‘Yeah so it’s not just here in the Badlands the research is, the science that goes on in the badlands has really vast impacts to the sciences across the world. So part of my responsibility is making sure the paperwork is in place to track those artifacts. And to keep track of them so that they don’t you know get lost, wherever that may be. Or misplaced and that we have contact information. It’s a lot of paperwork. A lot. There’s a lot of paperwork. I wouldn’t say that’s new though, paperwork is just a reality of museum collections that people don’t think about. It is a large portion of my job.’ Interviewer- ‘You're having to monitor, basically if it’s not even physically in our collections, if it is associated with our collections or if it is housed overseas, you're having to make sure that’s its being dealt with properly and its accounted for.’
Interviewer- ‘That’s a critical... What good is the work that the park does to excavate these fossils and to preserve these historic artifacts if they’re not gonna be watched over? It sounds like your job is critical in terms of that aspect of it.”
Interviewer- ‘So Alex I want to thank you so much for giving us some of your time today. We are gonna let you loose on the data, on the puzzles and on the back to the really critical work that you do in the park. Is there anything else that you want to make sure that we get on the record, or that we get to share before we let you off to bigger and better things?’
Alex- ‘No, just thanks for having me Kellen and it was great talking with you.’
Interviewer- ‘Yeah. Thank you so much. If you enjoyed that conversation with Alex, don’t hesitate to join us next week, when we dive into cultural resource management, collections, and crime as we expand our reach beyond the Badlands and sit down with Albert LeBeau of Effigy Mounds’