Mike Jacobs: If we build an amusement park at Jamestown, will the tourists come?

Buffalo-themed amusement park at Jamestown is worthy of state funding.

Mike Jacobs, Grand Forks Herald columnist.

If I were a member of the North Dakota Legislature, I’d be all for a state investment for an amusement park at Jamestown. Here’s the speech I’d give:

“Mr. Speaker!” I’d say. Or if I were a senator, I’d say, “Mr. President!” It’s “mister” in either case. Both the speaker of the House of Representatives and the lieutenant governor, who presides in the Senate, are men.

“Mr. Speaker and members of the Assembly,” I would say. “I rise today to support this amusement park at Jamestown. My reason is straightforward, Mr. Speaker. The park would trap tourists in the state for yet another night.

“Geography favors this scheme. Jamestown, where the amusement park will be, is on Interstate 94 just about 250 miles east of Medora, site of the Theodore Roosevelt Library and Museum, the tourist attraction we helped fund last session. That’s a nice drivable distance. Surely a motorist bound in either direction would be ready for a break after driving for four hours across North Dakota.

“There’s a nice tie-in. Roosevelt came to Dakota Territory to kill a buffalo. He came very close. The buffalo bull he shot actually hit the ground across the border in Montana Territory. You can’t fault Roosevelt, though. There wasn’t anything marking the boundary, and in that empty country west of the Little Missouri River, there still isn’t.


“Mr. Speaker, Roosevelt knew that only a few hundred buffalo had survived the worldwide craze for buffalo hides, and he would have been reminded by the piles of buffalo bones piled up on the prairie. A siding on the Northern Pacific Railway just east of Medora was a primary shipping point for buffalo bones. They were sent east to be ground into bonemeal.

“Roosevelt shot the buffalo anyway, and he did a little jig beside the corpse.

“This enterprise at Jamestown will help visitors understand what happened to the buffalo, since it’s going to include an interpretive center. Probably there’ll be some mention of the importance of the buffalo to the Indigenous people of the Great Plains, and perhaps there’ll be an acknowledgement that killing off the buffalo also reduced the people who had depended on the beasts for so many centuries.

“Let’s not worry about the pessimists who remind us that North Dakota is among the least visited of the states. A double whammy like the Roosevelt library and the buffalo interpretive park should make a difference.

“The case for the enterprise tells us that 9 million cars pass Jamestown in a year. The prospectus for the center says 200,000 of those will turn off to see this roadside attraction.

“The buffalo theme park has been described as ‘North Dakota’s Disneyland.' Disneyland has been a fantastic success, of course, and so has Disney World, its offspring. One is in California, a state with 40 million people, and the other is in Florida where 22 million people live. There are fewer than a million of us in North Dakota, and you’d have to add eight or 10 states in the general vicinity to approach Florida’s population.

“But we shouldn’t let those numbers discourage us. If we build it, they will come.

“Haven’t they come to the other lures we’ve put out there for travelers?


“We have to admit, it could be a bother to make the trip to these new attractions. We’re kind of remote compared to Disney Land and Disney World. You can fly to them and you’ll be met at the airport and spirited away to the attractions’ attached hotels.

“Finally, Mr. Speaker, we ought to invest in this undertaking because it spreads the money around. The bonding bill we legislators passed – the one Gov. Doug Burgum signed last week – put up $680 million for projects. About two thirds of that goes to projects in Cass County, mostly to protect Fargo from floods.

“Sharing the wealth seems only fair, don’t you think? We’ve got money in buckets that keep spilling into each other, and we haven’t been able to agree on how we should invest the money from all those oil wells in the western part of the state, about as far as you can get from Fargo,

“Since we’ve pretty much decided not to invest in higher education, arts and culture, health care, social services and rehabilitation programs, we may as well use the money to lure travelers off our highways.

“So, let’s do this, Mr. Speaker! Let’s invest in the buffalo amusement park and interpretive center. Let’s make that land we own near the interstate available for this new attraction.

“Remember. If we build it …

“Surely they will come.

“Mr. Speaker, I have left a copy of my remarks with the clerk, and I ask that any misstatement of fact or misspelling of words be corrected and that my little talk be printed in the journal.”


“Thank you, Mr. Speaker.”

Mike Jacobs is a former editor and publisher of the Grand Forks Herald.

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