DICKINSON — Men serving prison time put in the first physical labor on a presidential library to honor the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt.
Those men felled towering cottonwood trees near the Missouri River Correctional Center and six semi loads of the downed logs were hauled this week to Dickinson, where they’ll be used in the construction of a replica of Roosevelt’s Elkhorn ranch cabin on the presidential library grounds.
The library and museum are in the conceptual and development stage and the logs now arranged on the site are the first visible sign that something grand and bully for North Dakota will be happening there.
Loren Haid, plant director for the correctional center, said the trees had to go anyway and being asked and able to contribute them to the cabin project was one of those serendipitous win-win situations.
“The inmates did the majority of the work, and it was hard work,” Haid said. “We saved taxpayer money doing it in-house, and it was a good project for the inmates. They did it safely with not one injury or incident.”
The inmates have helped clear a few damaged or dying trees before, but not on this scale when 236 were red-flagged for removal by the engineers designing a flood levee to protect the correctional property south of Bismarck.
“There were a number of trees in some tight areas,” Haid said. About 70 of those were donated to the cabin project.
Most of the trees were in the 1- to 2-foot diameter range, but a few 4-foot-diameters were true granddaddies of the woods and saplings during Roosevelt’s time in the Badlands in the 1880s.
It’s hard to know what Roosevelt might have thought about inmates providing the cabin logs, but most likely this president who championed the outdoors and hard physical work would have dubbed it a splendid idea.
That’s Jim Kelly’s take on it, too.
Kelly is the CEO of the presidential library project, hired by a board of directors that’s reviewing concept renderings and working up a list of donors and funding sources. If all goes as planned, the Roosevelt presidential library would become the 19th presidential library in the country.
Kelly said it was exciting to have the logs delivered to the site, giving the project a tangible, touch-it reality.
He said the next step is to put together a plan for the 27-acre site with landscaping and then move on to the cabin design. The idea is to gather all the available documentation of Roosevelt’s cabin — built in 1844-45 on his cattle ranch along the Little Missouri River northwest of Medora — to create as authentic a replica as possible.
“We’ll be hand-adzing the logs and fashioning them into 1-foot by 1-foot square logs between 30 and 60 feet long,” Kelly said. “There’ll be little use of power tools.”
He said a call will go out to Little Missouri River ranchers to contribute heritage cottonwood trees, also.
Construction won’t start immediately. But while the cottonwoods cure and plans to rebuilt Roosevelt’s beloved cabin are drafted, those committed to the dream of a library will keep moving it forward one page at a time.