Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Superintendent Denice Swanke of the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument speaks to visitors last Thursday afternoon on the opportunities offered by National Park Service sites. Dave Hardie of Los Angeles photographs the U.S. Army Memorial on Last Stand Hill at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.

Visitors encouraged to ‘Find Your Park’ during NPS centennial

In 1991, Denice Swanke needed a summer job and Zion National Park in southwest Utah needed an entry station attendant. Twenty-five years later, as Superintendent of the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Crow Agency, she has worked for just about every division of the National Park Service, drawn in by the array of “wide-open places” and “cultural landscapes.”

The National Park service, founded almost exactly 100 years ago on Aug. 25, 1916, manages all national parks and 84 monuments – including the Battlefield memorial for those lost in the famous 1876 skirmish between Custer’s 7th Cavalry and Native forces.

“I never thought I’d end up as a superintendent,” Swanke said, “but here we are.”

Her experience ties in with the Find Your Park movement, launched in celebration of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary. Speaking last Thursday afternoon to an assembled audience of 60, Swanke said one’s “park” could be any spot outdoors.

“It’s about finding a place that’s meaningful to you,” she said. “It might be a state park. It might be a national monument.”

One of the attendees, Hardin Chamber of Commerce President Shirley Margheim, remembers growing up near Garryowen six miles south of the monument, before the current visitors center was even in place. Those driving west of the monument, she said, can see the farm where she once lived on the left-hand side of Interstate 90.

“When I was 4-H leader, we brought our 4-H kids up here and put flags on all the gravesites during Memorial weekend,” she said. “They had a lot of good fun and it was important for them to learn about the battlefield.”

This trip, she said, was in part to remember her past times in the area. After her visit to the battlefield she then drove to the family farm in Garryowen.

There are currently 413 national park sites in the nation, the most recent of which, Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, was added by presidential decree the eve of the centennial. Montana’s Custer County region, including Big Horn County, contains three national forests, seven state parks and two national wildlife refuges.

For more information on Find Your Park, go to findyourpark.com.