Forum Editorial: Here’s a rare opportunity to make a much more favorable impression with visitors
North Dakota should invest in an improved Painted Canyon visitor center at Theodore Roosevelt National Park that can be a gateway to western national parks -- and attractions in Medora and elsewhere in North Dakota.
It goes without saying that the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in Medora will be of national significance. It will draw fans of the 26th president from all over the world and will be a focal point for preserving the heritage of a true American hero.
The library’s grand opening on July 4, 2026, will be a national event, one of the official events of the nation’s 250th birthday celebration, and therefore is certain to attract many thousands of people.
The approaching opening of the $100 million presidential library presents North Dakota with its biggest tourism boon in many years, probably only equaled by the establishment of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in 1947. It remains the only national park honoring a president.
The National Park Service, in fact, is interested in an improved Painted Canyon visitor center that could serve as a gateway to western national parks. The visitor center is old and extremely limited in its offerings — but it’s located in a very strategic location along Interstate 94.
The problem is that many visitors, some not even aware of the national park or the other attractions in and around Medora and elsewhere in North Dakota, never take the time to leave the interstate.
A better, more engaging visitor center, with programming to introduce the new presidential library and other signature attractions, would be a critical tool in giving tourists reasons to alter their itineraries and spend more time experiencing what North Dakota has to offer.
North Dakota, in other words, has a huge stake in ensuring that an improved visitor center becomes a reality. When it meets in 2023, the North Dakota Legislature shouldn’t hesitate to make a major investment in a partnership with the National Park Service and possibly others in transforming the shabby, cramped and worn-out center that now greets visitors at the beautiful Painted Canyon overlook.
The draw of the new presidential library will help to persuade more tourists to get off the interstate and explore Medora and the Badlands.
The presidential library also poses transportation and safety challenges for Medora and the state of North Dakota. The North Dakota Department of Transportation is studying the traffic impacts the library will bring, and is reviewing the possibility of adding a second access road to the library site.
The library will be adjacent to the Medora Musical’s Burning Hills Amphitheatre on a picturesque bluff overlooking Medora. The two attractions will share a single access point, Chateau Road. That’s a cause for concern in Medora , where officials worry about safely evacuating visitors, especially if both locations happen to be open in the event of an emergency.
Here again, North Dakota shouldn’t hesitate to invest in transportation and other improvements that will allow the area to safely and efficiently accommodate a new level of visitors. State leaders should seize the opportunities presented by the presidential library to make Medora an even better tourism destination.