Administrative History
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In the late 1970s and early 1980s, external threats to national park areas became a central administrative issue for the National Park Service. At Pipestone National Monument, this had typical ramifications. Like many park areas, Pipestone was surrounded by private land over which the agency could exert varying degrees of influence. The area reserved for Yankton access under the 1858 treaty was 640 acres, in itself not large enough to eliminate threats from beyond the park borders. In 1937, 115 acres were deeded to NPS, a minuscule size to protect from encroachment. Even the addition of 164 acres to the monument during the 1950s and the creation of the 100-acre state game refuge did little to insulate the park. The General Services Administration sold the remaining portion of the original 640-acre reserved area to the state of Minnesota and the city of Pipestone with a covenant that the land be used for educational purposes, but even this caveat did little to assure the kind of land use that would protect the monument. The small size of Pipestone National Monument enhanced its vulnerability.

As a result, Pipestone National Monument remained an island, surrounded by other types of land use and susceptible to encroachment from a number of different sources. To the east, roughly half of the original reserved area that passed to the city and state became Southwest Technical College. One private development, a KOA facility, and a Good Samaritan Society project, a home for retired people, were also located in that area. The rest of the area was contracted out to farmers. To the south lay the Hiawatha Club land and facilities and a parcel of private farm land. To the west, private farmland dominated the boundary, and in the northwest corner of the monument an historic cemetery added another dimension to potential management problems surrounding the monument.

With its 283-acre landbase, Pipestone National Monument faced problems that were even more severe than those of many larger national park areas. Many of the western national parks were surrounded by federal land in other jurisdictions, allowing the Park Service a measure of input in decision-making that private landowners were unlikely to consider. Other parks had such vast land bases that while encroachment of various kinds was a problem, it did not present an overwhelming threat to the management of park areas.

The importance of the management of land outside park boundaries to the NPS and the park system was a phenomenon of the post-World War II era. Because of the nature of the selection process that limited most early national park areas to tracts of federal land in largely unsettled areas, the first generation of national parks rarely faced significant encroachment. Inholdings, land claims that were perfected before the founding of the park, were the worst threat to these parks. A general lack of access was a greater problem to the growing agency and its mission than was the proximity of other activities. Postwar development, better transportation systems, and more leisure time and money for the middle class spurred dramatic increases in visitation. Instead of being ignored into oblivion, the park system faced the prospect of being overrun. [1]

Capital development to accommodate visitors was the NPS response, but such programs did little to address a parallel issue: the growing dependence of local economies such as that of the town of Pipestone on their regional national park area. As the nature of the American economy began to change, small towns held fewer opportunities for young people. The tourism industry, with its emphasis on bringing in revenue generated in other places, held tremendous appeal. National park areas offered genuine advantages for this quest, for the brown sign that indicated a national-caliber attraction influenced the choices of travelers far more than did any similar local and state feature. In towns such as Pipestone, the presence of the park became an important part of the local economy.

Yet the Park Service only slowly recognized the implications of this gradual shift. Well into the 1970s, the NPS took a narrow view of its responsibilities, regarding events within park boundaries as its primary and many times exclusive focus. The development of exploitive ticky-tacky businesses on park boundaries, while a nuisance, was seen as beyond the purview of agency officials. Most took the same response when faced with changes in private land management beyond park boundaries. [2]

The changing cultural climate of the 1960s and 1970s propelled the Park Service towards a new view of its responsibilities. In the 1960s, the conservation/environmental movement took a more holistic approach to preservation. This approach meshed with changes in scientific thinking, creating a stronger understanding of natural science that suggested the dire consequences of encroachment. Such concerns stretched beyond the protection of the park system, elevating the importance of unreserved landscapes to the management of the islands that many national park areas had become. By the 1970s, this perspective dominated policy in the Park Service, and a broader view of management followed. [3]

In resources management, this translated into a concern for lands outside park boundaries. The Park Service began to develop a strategy to combat this category of threats of growing importance. In the early 1970s, allied organizations such as the National Parks and Conservation Association and the National Parks for the Future study group expressed concern about activities beyond park boundaries. By the middle of the decade, NPS Director Gary E. Everhardt determined that threats to the parks were the most severe problem the system faced. An agency report to Congress, The State of the Parks, 1980, became the catalyst for translating concern into policy. According to the study, the greatest and most comprehensive threats the park system faced came from beyond park boundaries. After its publication, the NPS fashioned a response. Each park was required to assess the nature of threats it faced and their potential for damaging the natural and cultural features of the area. [4]

Pipestone National Monument faced threats that were different from many other national park areas. Commercial enterprise, extractive resource use, and industrial development posed problems throughout the nation. Air pollution presented a growing threat in other places. But few parks other than Pipestone had to address problems associated with the changes in American agriculture.

At Pipestone, a study mandated by The State of the Parks, 1980 report determined that pollution of Pipestone Creek by runoff of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers from area farms as well as waste from feedlots was the primary threat to the integrity of the monument. Polluted runoff resulted from the industrialization of American agriculture and the changes in practice and land use designed to facilitate greater crop yield. Much of this began in the 1930s. Like many other states, Minnesota gained infrastructure as a result of the New Deal. One of these projects, a drainage ditch system, "channeled" rivers to provide better distribution of water and runoff for agriculture. No one foresaw the increase in pesticide use that began after the Second World War and increased exponentially in 1950s and 1960s. As such use increased, the very system designed to help farmers became the means that spread the toxic runoff of agricultural progress. [5]

At Pipestone National Monument, a "fish kill" that occurred in the fall of 1982 illustrated the gravity of the problem. The Park Service set out to identify the culprit. It quickly ascertained that an agricultural drainage ditch that entered Pipestone Creek east of the monument had the potential to be a source of pollution. Pipestone Creek also served as storm sewer drainage for parts of the town. An old landfill just off the eastern boundary offered another potential source of pollution. Industrial or agricultural pollutants could have caused the kill, and after some study, farm chemicals and fertilizers draining from a culvert appeared to be the most likely cause. For aesthetic and health reasons, the issue had to be addressed, and the NPS embarked on a program of regular monitoring. [6]

Park staff brought the matter to the attention of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), where the reputation of the creek preceded it. "Pipestone Creek, the dirtiest little stream in Minnesota," one MPCA scientist in St. Paul remarked when informed of the problem. Water samples first taken in August 1983 indicated higher-than-normal levels of chloride and sulfate in the creek. Resource management ranger Denise Stocks assumed responsibility for monitoring the creek. Other park personnel were asked to watch for obvious signs of pollution. One park official remembered that "suds below the falls" were considered the most typical visual clue. A sampling and testing program was set up as a response. MPCA identified two point-source polluters, and for the immediate future, the problem was resolved. [7]

By the early 1990s, a consistent monitoring program was in place and there had been clear improvement, but agricultural and urban pollution required constant vigilance. Heavy rains often washed pollution through the monument before it could be monitored, suggesting that the overflow of ditches could have serious environmental consequences throughout southwestern Minnesota. Some observational accounts from 1991 indicated that the problems persisted. Occasionally debris such as paint cans, herbicide containers, and lumber washed out of the landfill and into the monument. One NPS official reported that sometimes when approaching the Winnewissa Falls, the smell of pesticide was overwhelming. [8]

There were other kinds of threats to national park areas. With a battle over the vistas of Manassas battlefield looming in the late 1980s, visual intrusions on park areas became a primary threat. [9] As development threatened many parks, securing scenic easements and preventing development in the sight lines of park areas became an agency objective. Pipestone faced this particular problem. Located adjacent to a city, its accouterments such as power and gas lines, a cemetery, and city buildings intruded on the historic scene. Understanding the spirit of the quarries and seeing George Catlin riding up on his horse in the visitor's mind's eye became more difficult when the view included power lines and modern homes. Yet particularly on this issue, the Park Service could do little other than urge that adjacent landowners and others remain sensitive to park values. As in similar situations throughout the nation, some of them sought to help preserve the visual integrity of the park and others were ambivalent.

With a city as a neighbor, Pipestone National Monument faced a number of threats similar to those of many urban park areas. Domesticates such as dogs and cats were often found within its boundaries, and the noise of the city frequently intruded on the park. On some occasions, the spread of the community threatened the park. In the late 1970s, the City of Pipestone and a local development company, Brower-DeVries Estates, developed plans for a low-income housing area on the south boundary of the monument. Park officials found themselves in a difficult situation, arguing against the interests of a needy constituency for largely aesthetic reasons. The economic arguments about the value of tourism had yet to be widely accepted. After some negotiating, the two parties reached an agreement to put in a shelter belt of trees to conceal the buildings and protect the view from the park. [10] While a less than optimal situation, the compromise reflected the difficulty of park management in the proximity of an urban area. In the end, construction of the housing did not take place.

Preserving the historic character of the grasslands at the monument also required constant NPS vigilance. Beginning in the 1940s, agency personnel made a concerted effort to recreate as much of the natural setting of the mid-nineteenth century as possible. The introduction of controlled burning in the 1970s helped restore prairie areas to a semblance of their historic character, but protecting these areas from the incursion of exotic plants and in some instances, aggressive native plants, required a sizable investment of time and resources. The fire-generated prairie areas at the monument supported interpretation, for they allowed visitors to experience the feel of an earlier time. Controlled burning and the use of approved herbicides formed much of the agency response to what will remain a constant threat to the historic character of the monument.

Another classic problem for national park areas also appeared at Pipestone. The appearance of ticky-tacky souvenir and curio shops near the entrances of park areas had been an agency problem since the 1910s. Places such as Yellowstone, Zion, and Carlsbad Caverns also experienced this affliction, but for a long time, the existence of the town of Pipestone insulated the monument from such activity. The souvenir shops remained downtown, not far at all from the monument. [11] In the early 1980s, a modern souvenir shop in the shape of a historic blockhouse was constructed directly across from the entrance to the park. Called "Fort Pipestone," this unlikely structure appeared historic to the uninitiated. This posed a classic NPS problem. At many parks, visitors had to run a gauntlet of souvenir shops before they reached the entrance, leaving some visitors feeling as if they had just experienced a carnival. Such an eventuality reflected poorly on the parks, for some visitors could not distinguish between NPS attractions and those of exploitive promoters. When such attractions were pseudo-historical, the Park Service faced a significant educational problem. At Pipestone, park personnel reported that some visitors mistook the structure for the monument. [12]

Ironically, outside threats to the cultural resources of the monument were limited. The unique mandate of the park offered inherent protection for its resources, and the consistent activity associated with quarrying and the close management necessary to assure that it continued in a traditional manner allowed the Park Service greater control than was typical. Other parks with cultural resources faced the potential for great damage from the outside, but at Pipestone, the real threats were to the natural features of the monument.

An even greater threat loomed on the horizon at the start of the 1990s. Throughout the park system, funding limitations placed expanded programming in jeopardy, and in some cases, base budget cuts threatened existing levels of service. An extraordinary federal budget deficit, the aftermath of the savings and loan scandals, and a prolonged recession in the early 1990s meant that the situation was likely to grow far worse before it improved. Every penny became valuable as the funding for a range of kinds of programs disappeared, with little hope of base budget increases to offset the change.

Changes in the philosophy of national park management at the Cabinet level aggravated the situation. Throughout the 1980s in the Reagan-era Department of the Interior and particularly during the tenure of Secretary of the Interior James Watt, funding was almost exclusively directed toward providing amenities for park visitors. With a lack of respect for the preservation side of the mission of the Park Service, Watt held a vision of the national parks as playgrounds and expected them to cater to the sedentary with the kinds of facilities available in suburban America. Hotels, roads, and other trappings of convenience dominated his approach to national park management, and with a zealousness designed to infuriate and fragment the traditional bipartisan support for national parks, he focused on his self-proclaimed mission to turn the parks back to the people. Other kinds of programming suffered or were maintained through "soft money," funds not included in the base budget of park areas, and the concern of individuals and organizations at the national, regional, or park level. [13]

Watt's policies limited the chances for growth at Pipestone. As a result of declining or constant numbers of visitors since the mid-1970s, Pipestone did not qualify for the type of development the new leadership emphasized. Most people within and outside the agency felt that the physical plant at Pipestone was sufficient. The monument needed resources management and protection from external threats more than new buildings. With its claim on new funding declining along with visitation totals, park staff had to wait for an era with a different set of priorities.

With the return of high-level departmental leadership more in tune with the historic priorities and balance of objectives in the agency, the climate for supporting other kinds of activities improved. In the mid- to late-1980s, managers across the system readied new plans for all kinds of activity in an effort to accumulate the kind of baseline data necessary for long-term decision-making. About the same time, the combined burdens of the American economy slowed growth that could allow for increased expenditures on park protection and management. Many in the Park Service embraced a cautious optimism.

Despite the sense of Watt and his subordinates that places such as Pipestone needed little, the monument faced major funding needs at the dawn of the 1990s. The exhibits in the museum dated from 1958 and required a complete overhaul. Interpretation reflected the standards of the 1950s, and the language, terminology, and ideas reflected the values of American society before the cultural turmoil that began in the 1960s. For the Park Service, which among federal agencies prided itself on its sensitivity to culture, the museum became an embarrassment. Native Americans in particular found the portrayal of their heritage offensive, and many complained. [14]

The tightening of the federal budget in the aftermath of the national election of 1988 made remedying the problems of the monument more problematic. An estimate for refurbishing the museum suggested that the project would cost approximately $125,000, with a comprehensive overhaul of interpretation that provided on-site facilities for curator and conservation closer to $300,000 in cost. By the early 1990s, the U.S. was mired in a long recession that resisted numerous attempts to resuscitate the economy, and funding remained tight for federal agencies. An outlay such as that necessary for the museum at Pipestone seemed unlikely.

The funding situation left other principal needs at the monument unattended. A resources management initiative to remove and control exotic plant species was as necessary as the rehabilitation of the museum. At an estimated cost of $20,000 per year, this was projected as a $200,000 project over ten years. The Natural Resources Preservation Program funded three years of the program, and in its aftermath, a resources management specialist to implement the plan was funded through the regional office. Without a permanent resources management person in place, the program would continue in a haphazard manner. [15] The commitment of the regional office to the program reflected the importance of the program, but as was characteristic of the 1990s, a program essential to the management of the monument required significant resources.

The realities of funding threatened other areas of management at the monument. Across the federal government, many administrators found themselves facing a recurring predicament. Each year, the salaries of their staff were increased by law, but rarely did specific appropriations to fund these increases follow. As a result, money had to be reallocated from other areas. In the park system and particularly at smaller areas, this problem was exacerbated because individual parks handled every facet of their budgets. At Pipestone, if the park had to continue to absorb the cost of annual pay increases, at least two seasonal positions on which the monument depended for visitor service in the summers could be jeopardized. [16]

The 1990s will be a difficult decade for park managers. They will be asked to do more with less, to build constituency sometimes at the expense of established management priorities. At Pipestone, the developed physical plant and the relatively short primary visitation season help mitigate against limits on available resources. Yet at the beginning of the 1990s, the monument reflected a major issue facing the entire national park system. The public expected more of the park system and the National Park Service while agency standards required more expensive, more comprehensive programming and management. At the same time, the budget to administer park areas such as Pipestone remained constant or decreased. If doing more with less becomes the motto of the agency, serving the public and protecting the resources at places such as Pipestone National Monument will entail mutually exclusive choices that support one part of the NPS mandate while threatening another. For the park system and the public that loves it, this is a chilling prospect.

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Last Updated: 21-Aug-2004