Park Service Snoozes Through Effigy Mounds Wake up Call

Tags: ,

Park Service Snoozes Through Effigy Mounds Wake up Call

Washington, DC — An analysis of what led to the largest official mass desecration of Indian pre-historic burial sites in the annals of the National Park Service (NPS) is being suppressed, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) which today released a document which NPS denies exists. The Park Service has also not disclosed what steps it is taking to prevent recurrence of large scale violations of historic preservation and archaeological protection laws by its own managers.

For more than a decade, the superintendent and chief of maintenance of Effigy Mounds National Monument engaged in a multi-million building spree in violation of several federal laws. The resultant 78 projects did serious damage to 200 irreplaceable prehistoric burial mounds, each in the shape of a stylized animal or symbol overlooking the banks of the Mississippi River in northeast Iowa.

In a “Serious Mismanagement Report” completed in April 2014, a team of NPS officials reviewed the long pattern of “gross physical and ethical violations” in order to distill “lessons learned” and serve as a “wake up call” for all levels of the Park Service. The report found that –

  • NPS brass ignored reports of mismanagement from “numerous employees on multiple occasions, both formally and informally” over several years. NPS even failed to act upon its own operations and other evaluations which confirmed many egregious violations;
  • The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute responsible NPS officials because the “weak and inappropriate initial response by the Agency…fatally encumbered the criminal case, creating a threshold of doubt that [it] did not believe could be overcome in a jury trial”; and
  • The Park Service suffers from a sort of edifice complex in which the agency rewards perceived “progress instead of preservation” thus obscuring that the “protection of these mounds is the primary reason for the monument’s existence.”

“The National Park Service should carefully remove every single item that was built illegally and attempt to return the park to its intended historic state,” said Timothy Mason of Friends of Effigy Mounds and a former long-time Monument employee whose 2010 complaint finally caused Effigy Mound’s “reign of error” to end. “Created 65 years ago, this little park is supposed to preserve sacred sites, not serve as a construction playground for clueless and criminal federal employees.”

This report was not well-received by NPS hierarchy, however. It was withdrawn from official circulation and surfaced more than a year later through underground distribution. In fact, last week NPS Midwest Deputy Regional Director Patricia Trapp went so far as to tell Mason that:

“Simply put, there is no such agency report. There is a team, from outside the park and the region, that is undertaking a review of events occurring at the park, including lessons learned. I am in the process of obtaining an update of the status of this effort, and an idea of when the report may be finalized, and available to you and others. Stay tuned.”

“This entire affair through today is a case study of a Park Service leadership that is rotten to its core,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing to a recent string of flagrant accountability lapses by NPS leadership. “By suppressing this report, the Park Service both seeks to avoid any serious self-examination of this epic leadership failure but also, like those who forget the past, is doomed to repeat it.”


Read the “Serious Mismanagement Report” on Effigy Mounds

See NPS denial of report’s existence

Revisit decade-long string of violations at Effigy Mounds

View systemic accountability breakdown in NPS

Phone: 202-265-7337

962 Wayne Avenue, Suite 610
Silver Spring, MD 20910-4453

Copyright 2001–2024 Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility

PEER is a 501(c)(3) organization
EIN: 93-1102740