A job well done for acting superintendent Fleming

David Peck

When Christy Fleming applied for and was accepted for a detail as acting superintendent of the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, she didn’t figure it would be as eventful as it turned out to be.

Fleming, the chief of interpretation and a nearly 24-year employee of the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, served her four-month detail from July 10 to Nov. 12. The opportunity came along with retirement of Little Bighorn superintendent Wayne Challoner. The park is using acting superintendents during the hiring process.

Starting her career with the Park Service in 1998 as a fee collector, she worked in various positions at Bighorn Canyon including biological technician in the Resources Division and park guide and interpretive ranger before taking a lead position in 2010 at the Heart Mountain Internment Camp between Cody and Powell.

After a year and a half at Heart Mountain, Fleming returned to Bighorn Canyon as chief of interpretation in 2011 and has served as a member of the park leadership team since then.

Fleming said Park Service employees receive constant notifications of various details, and becoming an acting superintendent allows a person to hone their skills in the agency. She said the Little Bighorn position was a standard 120-day detail during which the employee’s home park pays salary and benefits while the park hosting the detail pays for housing and travel.

“It’s a much faster system than applying for a permanent position,” she said, “though it’s a similar process. You don’t have to go through USA Jobs.”

Fleming said she felt well prepared for the position because she was already familiar with Little Bighorn since the national monument is  part of the Park Service Powder River Group, which includes Devil’s Tower and Fort Laramie, along with Bighorn Canyon. She had also been working with the Little Bighorn interpretive staff since January after the chief of interpretation retired. She said she has helped with a project to plan a new visitor center, which she said is in the schematic design phase.

“I’ve been up there a lot,” she said.

Like Bighorn Canyon, Little Bighorn Battlefield has a lot of long-term employees she already knew, which helped smooth the transition. Even since her detail ended, she has spent the past month getting her replacement, Ephriam Dickson, up to speed as the acting superintendent.

“It’s nice, because
I’m only a phone call away,” she said.

The post

Fleming said she applied for the detail not only because of her familiarity with the park but also because her staff at Bighorn Canyon was in a good position to fill in for her.

“This was the first time I had enough staff to feel comfortable enough to take a detail and leave,” she said. “It didn’t quite turn out the way I thought it would, but everyone was super supportive.”

Her biggest challenge up north was staffing, with Little Bighorn not having any Resources, Interp or Maintenance division leads.

“It was a challenge, but everyone did a good job pulling it together and making things happen,” she said. “Without division leads, we kept the park running through the summer.”

The button

One of the challenges any park faces, especially a park with historic significance, is that visitors sometimes pick things up and put them in their pocket. Even taking an object to the visitor center takes the find out of context, Fleming said.

But about a month into Fleming’s detail, on Aug. 8, a young girl around 10 or 11 found a Civil War era uniform cuff button. She and others did the right thing, leaving the button in place and telling staff members about the find and its location. Fleming said the button was found in a public area out in the battlefield, likely exposed by rain.

“The staff does a good job educating visitors that, if they find something, to let us know,” Fleming said. “She saw it and did the right thing. She told her parents and a member of the maintenance staff and went to the visitor center (leaving the button in place). The button had to be collected because it was in a traffic area.”

What Fleming didn’t expect was the incredible national reaction the find would produce.

“We didn’t want to make it a big deal, but we decided to educate people (about finding objects) and thank the family, so we put it on Facebook,” she said. “Naively, I didn’t realize it would be a giant thing (after working at relatively quiet Bighorn Canyon).

“I didn’t realize how much more that park is a recognizable park and how people watch what’s happening there … I was surprised by the flurry of activity for about a week. It wasn’t bad. We kept to the theme of this is how you should handle something like that.”

Then there was the fire. Two days after the button find, Fleming had to watch a wildland fire almost encroach upon park land. The grass fire started just off U.S. 212 east of the park and came within eight feet of the park boundary fence, she said. A Bureau of Indian Affairs fire crew quickly jumped on the blaze and prevented it from spreading onto the park, putting themselves between the boundary and the fire and putting down a wet line next to the fence.

After that, Fleming’s remaining three months were relatively routine.

She said her experience at Little Bighorn Battlefield was very positive, noting that having come from a small park like Bighorn Canyon, she had already worked closely with the various divisions like Resources and Maintenance, which gave her experience dealing with projects, issues and staff members.

“I understand the technical aspects of the job (in different divisions), which helped me as a superintendent,” she said. “I have that base to have a more educated conversation because Bighorn Canyon is so small. For instance, Little Bighorn has a complicated water system, and I could talk the lingo, at least, and understand what needed to be done. That’s one thing they appreciate in a superintendent position.”

Fleming was able to return to her post at Bighorn Canyon confident in the knowledge that she completed a job well done.