A lot has happened at my little park surrounding the big rock in the past month or so. It has been….hectic, to say the least, here at Devils Tower. It all started in the first week of August with the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Just before the cyclists descended upon the Black Hills area of Wyoming and South Dakota, the NPS folks were preparing (mentally and physically!) for Rally Week. From the moment I arrived at Devils Tower, I was told that the 7,000 visitors we were getting in the Visitor Center was nothing compared to what we would get during Rally Week. I laughed it off thinking that it was just an exaggeration….. Turns out, not quite as exaggerated as I thought. In the weeks of preparation for the Rally, the park installed several Porta-Potties in the main parking lot and 4 in the Overflow Lot, we brought 3 extra Protection Rangers in from parks who wouldn’t be affected by the Rally and our Protection Rangers prepared to work nearly 70 hours through Rally Week, our maintenance staff prepared to work overtime in order to keep our park BEAUTIFUL, all employees were told to park in the Maintenance yard and an awesome Volunteer would shuttle us to our office or the Visitor Center through the week, and a Shuttle Bus was hired to transport visitors from the base of the hill up to the Tower for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday….. Needless to say I was starting to think this week was going to be a little crazy, especially after the Safety Briefing warning us about the increase in visitors and the changing demographic that would be visiting Devils Tower.
Fast forward to August 8th, Monday of Rally Week and we were ready. Extra bathrooms were in place, the shuttle was ready to transport employees up to the Visitor Center and Ranger Office, the Resource Management rangers were stationed and ready to help at the Entrance Station, the Protection Rangers were ready to keep an eye on the increased traffic, and our amazing volunteer group the Christian Motorcycle Association (CMA) was ready to direct traffic through the parking lot. All we needed now was the visitors.
This whole year, visitation has been higher than normal, partially because of the Centennial, which led to expectations of increased visitation for Rally Week. Especially since last year brought about 1 million motorcyclists to Sturgis for the Rally. This year turned out different. Each day visitation was lower than expected, only about a third of what it was last year.
Even though visitation was much lower than expected, the week still was hectic trying to balance the schedule of our Interp/Education Rangers. Timing is everything, right? Timing wasn’t so great for our Rally Week this year. Just before the week started, one of our rangers had to go on sick leave for a slipped disc in her spine and another ranger left her position about a month early. Then on Thursday of Rally Week, another ranger had to leave her position early due to medical reasons and at the end of the week a fourth ranger was leaving because her season was over. This meant that we went from 6 rangers working in the Visitor Center and offering 5 programs a day, to only 2 rangers available consistently.
Due to the shortage of Rangers, I had the chance to work in the Visitor Center and give programs. The Education Ranger and I were drafted to help in the VC and with programs, which put many of my normal CVA duties on the backburner for the time being. My supervisor was helpful in ensuring that I had at least a day or two each week to focus on my CVA work, but I also got to spend a lot of time working with the public. As time went on, we eventually had to cut back how many programs we could offer because there just weren’t enough rangers to cover everything and make all the visitors happy.
Fortunately now the ranger with the slipped disc is back at work (don’t worry, she is still taking it easy on her back), a new seasonal ranger was hired, and a new intern has started. So now I am back to work on CVA things, I am still helping out in the Visitor Center and giving programs as needed though.
Like I said it has been a hectic few weeks, but it has been good!! That being said, I’m ready for things to get a little calmer for a bit. Oh wait….there is some required maintenance on the water pumps in the park, so we have no water here for the next month… Life is sometimes crazy and unpredictable in the National Parks, but it is also a beautiful office!
Til next time!