As the staff at Big Hole Has been operating out of the remodeled visitor center for almost a year and half now I think we can say with great certainty that whole process in redoing the visitorís center was a great success and worth the time and effort it took to get the park where it is now. Just last week I talked with an elderly couple from the Bitterroot Valley who brings guest and family over often. They were telling me how the building and exhibits were so much better than the old ones and were telling their friends that they have got to come over and see what we had done. If that isnít affirmation, I donít know what is.
We, of course, are never done with the visitor center project. This winter we installed audio exhibits for those with vision impairment and it works very well for people for whom English is not their first language also. Our restrooms are undergoing renovation as I type to make them fully accessible for those in wheel chairs. These changes are being made to make sure that all of our visitors can enjoy what Big Hole has to offer.
The time has flown by since we moved back in and my last message to you. We had the 135th Anniversary of the Battles of the Big Hole and Bear Paw Commemorations in August and October respectively. At Big Hole we were very lucky with the weather as the wind shifted and blew smoke away from a large forest fire that was only at that time 50 miles away. The crowd was over 250 people for the event and Wilfred Scott aka ďScottyĒ the man who started the commemorations with Horace Axtell in 1977 for the 100th anniversary, told the crowd before the event started that he didnít think that he had seen that many Nez Perce at one of these in many years. Why did so many make the trek from Washington, Oregon and Idaho? To see the new exhibits. There was a lot of emotion brought to the surface when the People saw the exhibits for the first time. Tears were shed, lots of hushed voices were observed and there were many smiles, as they saw images of relatives now passed on or all grown up. It truly was a great day to be in the park.
The Bear Paw commemoration had nice weather for second year in a row and it brought out the crowds. With the snow covered Bearís Paw Mountains in the background, the sun was out and it was in the upper 40ís as opposed to the usual clouds and snow. While there was the usual people from Blaine County and it is always good to see them, there was a lot more youth from the local tribes and everyone who spoke made note of that and how good it was to see young people there. The feed that is put on by the residents of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation was great as it is every year and it is not to be missed.
One thing about these commemorations that I enjoy and it is something we can all learn from, is the tone that is struck in them. When people get up and speak, it is often about conciliation. There is not hatred to those who attacked, there is talk of how no one wanted to be in the position that they were in.
While there are tears shed for those who were lost and there is emotion in speech, there is always a welcoming message and a reach out for those that clashed so long ago.
With the end of 2012 and a new season ahead of us, what is on tap? Well lots of things. At Big Hole, Coyote Camp, our week long education program starts May 20 and we expect almost 1000 kids, teachers and parents to come through the doors that week. While it is a very busy week for everyone involved, the glowing reports we get from teachers afterwards makes it all worth it. Summer tours begin in June and will run through August. At Bear Paw, we have a well-seasoned summer staff returning to give programs which will also begin in June. Jim Magera will be starting his 20th season at the park and Sarah Gone her 5th. Guiding them both will be Park Ranger Stephanie Martin, our Lone Ranger, most of the year. We will not be doing our Trails and Rails program on Amtrakís Empire Builder this summer. With the oil boom in Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota there is a serious shortage of rooms for our staff to stay overnight for the return trip and the railroad is working on the line which will mean long delays. With all of that in mind we are taking a year off of what had been a very successful program.
The National Park Service finally released the State of the Park report for Big Hole on April 23rd. This report, which is a snapshot in time, is a look at the park from many different fields of study. It is designed to give the reader a brief or in-depth look at the park and is available for everyone.
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