The drive to create a Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in or near his namesake national park in the Little Missouri Badlands is hailed as a way to showcase the crown jewels of North Dakota’s landscape.
Already, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is by far the most-visited tourist destination in the state, drawing about 700,000 people every year to enjoy the natural beauty of the Badlands. Roosevelt ranched and hunted in the badlands during the 1880s.
The number of visitors will swell when the library is built. So more people than ever will be able to see the splendor of the Badlands.
Unfortunately, as any visitor knows, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is badly in need of proper maintenance.
That’s putting it mildly. Most obviously, the loop road remains closed after wet weather earlier this year caused a hillside to slump, severely damaging a stretch of the road. Shifting soils go with the territory in the Badlands.
More troublesome, one of the distinctive landmarks in the park, the Peaceful Valley Ranch, has been deteriorating for decades.
The ranch includes the only original ranch house remaining in the south unit of the park. It hosted horseback trail rides for almost a century, from 1918 to 2014.
The area was once inhabited by Gerry Paddock, a game hunter who was a close associate of the Marquis de Mores, a French aristocrat who launched a beef-packing plant in Medora and a stage coach line from Medora to Deadwood, both of which failed spectacularly.
But the ranch buildings have been allowed to become dilapidated, a shameful example of the neglect that has come to characterize our national parks in recent years. The maintenance backlog at Theodore Roosevelt National Park stands at more than $50 million.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., is behind a plan to address deferred maintenance at our national parks that would not raise taxes or reduce funding to states. The plan would allocate half of the excess revenues from energy development on federal lands to create a National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund.
Appropriately, the Restore Our Parks Act, as the proposal is called, is a bipartisan effort. It would mean an increase of $135 million available for appropriations in fiscal 2020. That’s a significant infusion of funding that would make a serious dent in the maintenance backlog in the national park system.
The Legacy Restoration Fund would accrue an expected $6.5 billion over five years, according to Hoeven. Imagine what that kind of funding stream would mean for Theodore Roosevelt National Park and our other national parks.
Visitation at our national parks keeps increasing, but funding to maintain those parks has failed to keep up. Both parties have been part of this appalling neglect. Both parties should unite behind this common-sense solution. We cannot let our natural heritage deteriorate.