Situated in the badlands of North Dakota, and beckoning with the same serenity and peace that attracted our twenty-sixth President, Theodore Roosevelt National Park celebrates the 30th anniversary of its National Park designation today. This is a park that has run through a plenitude of official names in its interesting history. Created as Roosevelt Recreation Demonstration Area in 1935, it was designated Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge when it was transferred to the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1946, then transferred to the National Park System as Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park on April 25, 1947, and finally designated Theodore Roosevelt National Park on November 10, 1978.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is home to some of the most starkly beautiful land in the nation. President Roosevelt, who first visited the area in 1883, credited his experiences there as being central to his life. Today, Americans can immerse themselves in the same landscape that he ranched and lived in for two years following the death of both his wife and mother (on the same day!).
Divided into a north and south unit, this park is perhaps just as famous for its wildlife as anything else. Home to bison, wild horses, prairie dogs, eagles, elk, antelope, burrowing owls, and more, the park attracts wildlife enthusiasts from across the country. With over 100 miles of dedicated hiking trails, two scenic drives comparable to Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the 96 mile hiking, horseback, and biking Maah Daah Hey Trail that connects the north and south units by way of the Little Missouri National Grasslands, it is easy to see why hundreds of thousands of people make the trek to this remote corner of the northern Great Plains each year.
The past few weeks have seen several notable events in the park. October 27 was the 150th birthday of President Roosevelt, and the park celebrated with birthday cake and other festivities. Governor. John Hoeven declared the entire month of October “Theodore Roosevelt Month” in North Dakota, saying, "As we celebrate the life of Theodore Roosevelt, we reflect on the pivotal role he played in shaping North Dakota's rich history….his time spent in our state not only paved his way to the presidency, but made him a legend whose footsteps can still be traced in North Dakota's Badlands."
Last week the park also held a bison roundup designed to keep the bison population from exceeding the habitat's carrying capacity. "We have to ensure that the bison numbers stay within a reasonable range," Superintendent Valerie Naylor said. "...[They're] in a little bit of an unnatural situation because they do not have millions of acres to roam."
Scientists estimate that there are about 370 bison in the park, and the goal is to reduce that number to around 220. The bison roundup does more than cull the herd, though. Wildlife biologists will implant microchips in the animals for research purposes, send some of the creatures to the Dakota Zoo in Bismarck, and perhaps most importantly, give many of the culled animals to local Native Americans.
"If it wasn't for the Park Service there are a lot of tribes that wouldn't have buffalo," Raymond Jetty of North Dakota's Spirit Lake Tribe stated. Buffalo, of course, are an integral part of the tradition and history of Great Plains tribes, and the National Park Service is helping to perpetuate not just the landscape of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but the cultural fabric of America when it undertakes the roundup every few years.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park can be reached via I-94 (South Unit) and United States Highway 2 (North Unit). Amtrak, air, and bus service is also available in the area.