As National Park Week winds down today, many in our country are celebrating and thinking about our beloved national parks. Each year, hundreds of thousands of visitors come from around the world to enjoy the legacy and wonder of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This is no surprise to those from North Dakota; many spend time in the park every year.
Former President Theodore Roosevelt described his wonder for this area when he wrote, “There are few sensations I prefer to that of galloping over these rolling limitless prairies, with rifle in hand, or winding my way along the barren, fantastic and firmly picturesque deserts of the so-called Bad Lands.”
North Dakotans know the joy that is brought to their lives because of the park, but there are other, tangible benefits to the state -- and these benefits are significant. In 2016, North Dakota saw $50 million spent in gateway communities. That spending supported 740 jobs and added a cumulative benefit of nearly $6.5 million to the state economy – money that helps local governments, businesses, schools, and families.
We should be re-investing in Theodore Roosevelt National Park because it has enriched our lives since its founding in 1947. According to the National Park Service, the park has $50 million of deferred maintenance needs – from roads, to trails, to bridges, to various visitor facilities.
I encourage you to spend some time in the park this summer. Visit Painted Canyon right off I-94 to experience the expansive views. Check out Theodore Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Ranch cabin at the park’s south unit entrance in Medora and then take a drive around the 36-mile loop for the scenic views. Walk hundreds of feet above the banks of the Little Missouri River and its river bottoms at the wind-swept sandstone formations at Wind Canyon. Or take a hike on the Caprock Coulee Trail in the North Unit, which showcases the many faces of the park – Badlands, prairie, river, and woodlands. If you are a history buff and want a half-day adventure, make your way to Theodore Roosevelt’s remote Elkhorn Ranch.
The possibilities are endless -- just like the blue skies above the park.
Happy National Park Week!
Valerie Naylor is the former superintendent of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.