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Forum Editorial: Hamm’s $50M gift ensures the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library will be world class

The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation has raised $300 million for what will be a top-flight library when it opens in 2026. North Dakota should capitalize on the opportunity.

Theodore Roosevelt library sketch.jfif
Oslo-based architecture firm Snøhetta sees the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library as a simple complement to the rugged North Dakota Badlands. The library will be built in Medora near the gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park and is slated to open in 2026.
Sketch courtesy of Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation
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The news that oil tycoon Harold Hamm has generously donated $50 million to the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library is the latest sign that a world-class attraction is taking shape in Medora.

Hamm is the founder and chairman of Continental Resources, an oil company that has been at the forefront of oil development in North Dakota’s Oil Patch.

Hamm’s company has invested billions in oil extraction in the state and has been a pioneer in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, the technologies that unlocked the hard-to-reach wealth of the Bakken Formation.

The announcement this week of Hamm’s gift demonstrates that the Theodore Presidential Library Foundation’s fundraising campaign is hitting the ball out of the park. It has easily surpassed the $100 million threshold that provides access to the state’s $50 million endowment fund, which will help to operate and maintain the library.

As of now, the foundation’s campaign is on track to raise $300 million. Construction will break ground later this year, and the library is slated to open on July 4, 2026 as part of the nation’s 250th birthday celebration.

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In announcing Hamm’s gift, Gov. Doug Burgum called the donation a “game changer.”

Conceptual drawings provide a glimpse of what’s to come . Exhibits will fill 32,000 square feet of the 93,000-square-foot library, which will be built into a bluff on the edge of Medora overlooking Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The building will include an auditorium with seating for 300 that could accommodate presidential debates and pavilion seating for 200 on the grass-covered roof, with a view of the scenic Badlands where Roosevelt ranched and hunted in the 1880s.

READ MORE ABOUT THE THEODORE ROOSEVELY PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY
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“This is a game changing gift for this transformative project,” Edward F. O’Keefe, CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation, said in a released statement.
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The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library, which will open in 2026, will feature immersive, hands-on learning experiences for visitors.
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A range of options being studied for the park include new and improved visitor centers in both the north and south units as well as at the Painted Canyon overlook.
Summer traffic in Medora, North Dakota, could double once the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library opens in 2026.
The harvest of native plant seeds, including some taken from Theodore Roosevelt's Maltese Cross and Elkhorn Ranch sites, marks a "hands-on-the-ground" step forward for the future western North Dakota attraction.

A hallmark of the design is the incorporation of active learning experiences throughout, including a shooting gallery, narrative galleries telling the story of Roosevelt’s childhood, time in the Badlands, presidency and beyond.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park typically draws 800,000 visitors a year — a number that is certain to swell once the library opens.

Many — most? — of those visitors stop at the park’s Painted Canyon visitor center on Interstate 94, a strategic location to draw in tourists and funnel them into Medora and the Badlands for a closer look.

The visitor center was built in the 1960s and in need of an upgrade. It’s also not open year-round, as it once was, something Burgum wants to address. Once the museum is open, Medora will become more of a year-round attraction.

Burgum is proposing that the state invest in a new visitor center, which he points out provides a unique opportunity to tell North Dakota’s story.

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Tourism and recreation, vital in their own right, also have become critical in attracting a workforce. Increasingly, people look for amenities when choosing a place to live and work.

Medora and the Badlands, of course, are North Dakota’s leading attraction — and will become even more appealing once the presidential library opens. North Dakota should take advantage of that opportunity, and a new Painted Canyon visitor center is a modest piece of that. Legislators should support the strategic proposal to enhance the visitor center, where a comparatively modest investment can make a big difference.

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