“I owe more than I can ever express to the West, which of course means to the men and women I met in the West.”
– Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders: And, An Autobiography, 1889
In a conversation with a friend, Roosevelt said that the one memory he cherished above all others was “…the memory of my life on the ranch, with its experiences close to nature and among the men who lived nearest her.”
The Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota was established in 1947 in honor of President Teddy Roosevelt, who traveled to the Dakota Badlands in 1883 to hunt bison.
He invested $14,000 in cattle and started the Maltese Cross Ranch (also known as the Chiney Butte Ranch). In 1884, he started a second ranch, called the Elkhorn.
Today, the park is more than 70,400 acres, and consists of three units of land in Western North Dakota. Unfortunately, Roosevelt’s conservation legacy – including the park dedicated to him and his ranch – is threatened by a reckless approach to energy development in North Dakota.
In March of 2013, the idyllic nature of the park was threatened by a proposal submitted by XTO Energy to drill for oil approximately 100 feet from the park boundary and within sight of the foundation of Roosevelt’s cabin on the Elkhorn Ranch.
The proposal, said Park Superintendent Valerie Naylor, called for four oil wells and a drill site that was roughly 1800 feet across. In a March 2013 interview, Naylor called the proposal “probably the greatest single threat to the park in its 66 year history.”
In response to the widespread concerns raised by XTO Energy’s drilling proposal, the company withdrew its application for the well site on March 22, 2013, a development that was welcomed by the Park staff and community supporters.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation applauded the decision, noting that although “the oil and gas industry is an important part of North Dakota’s economy, care must be taken that it not damage a site of such historic and cultural value” and that the continued threat of oil and gas development prompted the Trust to name the Elkhorn Ranch to its 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list in 2012.
However, the threat to the park remains. Currently, the North and South units of the park have wells within a mile of the park boundary. In an October 2012 interview, Naylor stated that “They have an impact on the viewshed, they have an impact on the soundscape…we also have air quality issues…we do see dust, particulates, there’s the flaring.”
Other impacts include increased industrial truck traffic on two lane highways around the park and through the region, increasing noise, housing costs, the wear and tear on campgrounds, and increased crime rates.
Impacts from oil and gas and other developments threaten the park. The Federal Highway Administration, the North Dakota Department of Transportation, and Billings County, North Dakota are considering a proposal to build a new bridge and connecting road directly downstream of the Elkhorn Ranch in order to handle the increased traffic to and from the well sites. In addition, a local businessman is seeking approval to turn a plot directly across from the foundation of Roosevelt’s cabin into a gravel pit to provide the stone needed by the local drilling operations.