Roosevelt’s ranch, park need state’s protectionSwap the mineral rights, move the proposed bridge and protect Teddy Roosevelt’s ranch in the park that bears his name. That’s the way to honor TR’s legacy, save a priceless American landmark and discourage a federal land grab, all at the same time.
By: Grand Forks Herald, The Jamestown Sun
Swap the mineral rights, move the proposed bridge and protect Teddy Roosevelt’s ranch in the park that bears his name.
That’s the way to honor TR’s legacy, save a priceless American landmark and discourage a federal land grab, all at the same time.
As North Dakotans may recall, Theodore Roosevelt National Park used to be called Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park. The entire park was established as a memorial to Roosevelt; it remains America’s first and only national memorial park.
Elkhorn Ranch is the park’s heart. It’s the place where young Roosevelt developed his conservation ethic. That basically makes it the birthplace of conservation in America.
“The Elkhorn Ranch has now taken its place on the list of other treasured historic sites of national significance that symbolize America’s unique culture and identity,” said Lowell Baier, former president of the Boone and Crockett Club and a trustee of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, in a 2007 interview.
The ranch is “the Cradle of Conservation, the Walden Pond of the American West, the place where conservation started. It is the iconic, geographic symbol of a core value in America.”
And now it’s threatened on two major fronts. The threats are such that the National Trust for Historic Preservation recently named the ranch one of America’s 11 most endangered historic sites for 2012, and Roosevelt’s great-grandson met with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office and asked him to declare the ranch a national monument.
National Public Radio and the Washington Post have carried stories. Edmund Morris, Roosevelt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, wrote a New York Times op-ed about the ranch and urged Obama to act.
Once such a drumbeat gets started, it’s hard for a president to resist. But North Dakotans tend to dislike federal intervention in such matters.
What to do?
Counter the threats at a state and agency level in a way that builds conservationists’ — and America’s — trust.
The first threat is a bridge that Billings County, N.D., and others want to build across the Little Missouri River. The bridge is needed; its absence means motorists must drive more than 100 miles out of their way. But the county’s preferred alternative would be clearly visible from the ranch site, and that’s unacceptable.
Where Roosevelt from his ranch house saw wolves and lynxes travel up and down the river, visitors after the bridge-building would encounter “the not-far-away rumbling of great trucks full of smelly crude,” as Morris wrote in his op-ed.
But this problem has a realistic solution, said former North Dakota Gov. Ed. Schafer in a SayAnythingBlog.com interview. Because there are alternative crossings where a bridge and its traffic would be neither seen nor heard from the ranch site.
Building the bridge at such a site would be more expensive, and Billings County is reluctant to pay. So, North Dakota should press for the change and pay the difference, Schafer suggested.
The ranch is worth it: “This (bridge) would impact a very pristine and beautiful area that I think should be preserved for all,” he said. And because that preservation would benefit all North Dakotans, it’s reasonable for the state to pay.
The second threat takes the form of a gravel pit that a minerals owner wants to dig within sight of the ranch. The U.S. Forest Service owns the surface but not the mineral rights.
And while the Forest Service may not have the cash to buy the mineral rights, it does have access to the federal government’s tried-and-true method in such cases: an exchange for federally owned minerals elsewhere.
All that’s lacking is a commitment by the Forest Service to both protect the ranch and to act. And if North Dakota leaders think that’s the path the service should follow, they should say so.
“Our goal is to keep the site as untouched as possible, similar to the way it was when Roosevelt first saw it in 1884,” said Valerie Naylor, superintendent of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, to the Bismarck Tribune. If the Forest Service and North Dakota’s leaders adopted Naylor’s no-nonsense determination, protection for America’s Cradle of Conservation would be on its way.