National Park Service Admits Mistakes With Proposed Little Bighorn Visitor Center Expansion

National Park Service officials say they'll go back to the drawing board to come up with a plan for a better Visitor Center expansion at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. NPS photo.

In an about-face, National Park Service officials have admitted they erred in pushing an expansion of the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument visitor center and are reversing course.

"Sometimes you just have to admit that you didn't do your homework as well as you might have thought," says Intermountain Regional Director Mike Snyder.

The question that remains, though, is whether that change of heart was spurred by a lawsuit filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility or by internal review of the project.

The National Park Service had planned to erect an enclosed theater seating 200 people at the base of Last Stand Hill, site of the climax of the 1876 battle in which General George Armstrong Custer and five companies of the 7th Cavalry were wiped out.

While concerns over the project had prompted National Park Service Director Mary Bomar to give the project further review, PEER last month went to court to stop the project. The lawsuit claimed the project would occupy the middle of the battlefield and block views of how the battle evolved as well as where it ended.

Intermountain Regional Director Mike Snyder today announced the plan was being scraped.

"The proposal to expand the visitor center was one way to solve the problem of crowding during interpretive talks and the lack of a great room or theater to view the park’s film. But, after regional office staff reviewed the issues, we’ve concluded there are other ways that we can achieve those goals without encroaching further onto the battlefield,” he said in a release from his Denver office.

Robert Utley, a former National Park Service chief historian and the lead plaintiff in the PEER lawsuit, was happy to see the regional director spike the plan.

"Hopefully, he and his staff will now proceed with enlightened planning to remove intrusions from the historic landscape and implement the current General Management Plan and open an off-site facility," said Mr. Utley.

The NPS announced that it would formally withdraw the approval for construction of the visitor center expansion. The PEER suit challenged that approval as violating both the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act as well as the agency's own Management Policies.

According to the release from the Park Service's Denver office, specialists in interpretation and safety soon will begin to work with battlefield staff in developing other approaches to providing the film and interpretive talks to park visitors.

Comments

Intermountain Regional Director Mike Snyder said:

"Sometimes you just have to admit that you didn't do your homework as well as you might have thought."

When I read an upper-level management figure make a 'cute' statement like this (and only after having been forced to by court-action) I start to worry. Trying to appear merely juvenile and vulnerably-human makes him appear to be pleading to a lesser charge, of trying to "skate" as we used to say in school.

The management-professional & executive then says:

"The proposal to expand the visitor center was one way to solve the problem of crowding during interpretive talks and the lack of a great room or theater to view the park’s film. But, after regional office staff reviewed the issues, we’ve concluded there are other ways that we can achieve those goals without encroaching further onto the battlefield”

This is slick-talk. It's all about 'defining talking points' that are peripheral to and aim to redefine the problem & issue that has arisen - it's deflection. The second part of the statement coyly declines to take responsibility or accept accountability, but simply rolls over and smiles pretty at its accuser: it's an attempt to disarm. "Wow - I see that you're so much smarter than me. You win."

Frankly, the response of Director Snyder raises my suspicions.

What really was the process that lead to the plan to erect a large structure in the center of an historic battlefield that has been deliberately kept open & unobstructed for over a century? Why are we listening to this white-collar prattle - "Oh, we must have boo-booed" - instead of a more grown-up rundown of the events?

Maybe there ought to be an investigation: perhaps the mere proposal could prompt Director Snyder to set aside his cow-lick & school-knickers routine.

True, this is just one post on the National Parks Traveler with a few quotes. There could be more information that puts Mr. Snyder in a better light. What I'm coming away with here, though, is distinctly shady.

Welcome to the slick and slippery halls of bureaucratic careerism. You ain't seen nuthin' yet my friend, this was just a mere peek through a slightly cracked door.