Theodore Roosevelt National Park is one of the top destinations for 2016

Mexico City, Mexico. Bordeaux, France. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota. What do all these places have in common? Well according to the New York Times, all three of these places are in the top five of the “52 Places to Go in 2016”.

A wild horse stops inside Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (Photo by Stacy Swenson/The Herald)
A wild horse stops inside Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (Photo by Stacy Swenson/The Herald)

By JORDAN WRIGHT | For The Herald

In an article recently published by the New York Times, the Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP) was listed as the fifth best place to visit in 2016. In the article, author Tim Neville says “The National Park Service turns 100 years old in August thanks to President Woodrow Wilson, who signed the Organic Act of 1916, but few presidents have done as much for conservation as Teddy Roosevelt. Fly into Dickinson in western North Dakota to visit the park named after him, where rolling grasslands dotted with bison collapse into the spectacular red, white and gold badlands of tumbling mud coulees. Lonely dirt roads bring you to one of the park’s less-visited attractions, Elkhorn Ranch, about 35 miles north of Medora, where Roosevelt arrived in 1884 as a young New Yorker ready to raise cattle and heal from the deaths of his wife and mother. Transformed and inspired, the 26th president eventually set aside more than 230 million acres of federal land to help preserve the wonder of places like Crater Lake, Mesa Verde and the Grand Canyon.”

Theodore Roosevelt National Park was established to memorialize this area’s importance in Theodore Roosevelt’s life and the key role it played in fostering his conservation ethics. While visiting the badlands for the first time in 1883, Roosevelt fell in love with the rugged landscape and became interested in the new business of cattle ranching. After talking with local ranchers, he decided to invest in a local cattle operation known as the Maltese Cross.

The next summer, following the death of his wife and mother in February, Roosevelt returned to the badlands. During his stay, he started a second ranching operation called the Elkhorn Ranch.

The United States is filled with 59 National Parks, covering nearly 52 million acres. The first national park in the United States was Yellowstone, which was created in March, 1872, followed by Yosemite and Sequoia in 1890. The most-visited national park is Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee, with over ten million visitors in 2014, followed by Arizona’s Grand Canyon, with over 4.7 million. In contrast, only 12,669 people visited the remote Gates of the Arctic in Alaska in the same year.

Even though the Theodore Roosevelt National Park is over 70,000 acres, it comes in at number 43 in terms of overall size when compared to the other National Parks. TRNP received almost 600,000 visitors in 2014, making it the 27 ranked National Park for visitors.

Of course, anyone who has ever visited TRNP knows of its beauty and awe-inspiring views. However, it is rare when our nearest national park receives national attention. According to the National Parks Service website, Theodore Roosevelt National Park contains several sites of historical significance, each relating to the era of cattle ranching in the late 1800s.

Most significant is Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch Site, the main ranch site where he spent the bulk of his time and where many of his conservation ideas grew.

“My home ranch-house stands on the river brink. From the low, long veranda, shaded by leafy cotton-woods, one looks across sand bars and shallows to a strip of meadowland, behind which rises a line of sheer cliffs and grassy plateaus. This veranda is a pleasant place in the summer evenings when a cool breeze stirs along the river and blows in the faces of the tired men, who loll back in their rocking-chairs (what true American does not enjoy a rocking-chair?), book in hand–though they do not often read the books, but rock gently to and for, gazing sleepily out at the weird-looking buttes opposite, until their sharp outlines grow indistinct and purple in the after-glow of the sunset.” From Hunting Trips of a Ranchman by Theodore Roosevelt

Roosevelt’s first ranch home, the Maltese Cross Cabin, is open for viewing at the South Unit Visitor Center. The Long X Trail was used as a corridor to move cattle into the Northern Great Plains in the 1800s, and it passes through the North Unit of the park. Peaceful Valley Ranch was built in the 1880s and served as a dude ranch from 1918 to the 1930s. The ranch and its owners assisted in the establishment of Theodore Roosevelt National Park

In 1901 Theodore Roosevelt became the 26th President of the United States, and ultimately one of its greatest conservationists. He later said, “I would not have been president had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.”

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