On Saturday, June 2nd, Big Hole National Battlefield formally reopened its visitor center with a ribbon cutting, exhibit blessing, and dedication. Nez Perce elders, all of whom worked with the park in the development of the new exhibits, came from three different reservations to be a part of this celebration.
The park’s new exhibits tell the story of what happened here in August 1877 in a completely new way. Much like the change in interpretation in the Civil War parks, the new exhibits talk about the causation of the Nez Perce war of 1877 and let the people who were here those fateful days tell the story in their own words. In addition the Nez Perce people of today tell about how this battle and the war still affects them.
The staffs of Big Hole National Battlefield and Nez Perce National Historical Park, working with Mary Lou Herlihy of Pacific West Regional Office, labored for almost five years on this project. All work was done in coordination with the Nez Perce Tribe, The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Planning meetings were held on all three reservations as well as in the offices of both parks. At the conclusion of this process, the park and its partners were satisfied with what was accomplished and eager to share the new exhibits with visitors.
In addition to all the new exhibits, the visitor center was renovated through funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The roof, which had leaked since we opened in 1968, was replaced with a new energy efficient cold roof system, complete with light tubes to greatly increase the amount of natural light inside while reducing electricity consumption. A new vestibule was added to the front of the building to keep the harsh winter weather outside and provide shade in summer. And visitors will no longer have to go outside to find the entrance to the restrooms.
On the day of the event the weather looked bleak, but once the ceremony began the clouds parted and the sun shone brightly. A local station from Butte arrived and filmed the event and some of the new exhibits (click on the link below to see their story).
Among the people to attend the event was the chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee and Gary Somers, the retired superintendent of Nez Perce NHP, who helped to start the whole process.