As the summer dawns, planting season begins, and newborn calves litter our fields, many of us are planning our yearly trip to Medora. One of our greatest pleasures as North Dakotans is visiting this gateway to the badlands, and one of our state’s most unique attractions, Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
A crowning achievement occurred this year when our Legislature decided to fund a matching grant for the construction of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Medora near the entrance to the park. This transformational project will undoubtedly bring thousands of tourists to our humble state.
As we look ahead to the eventual construction of the presidential library, we must recognize that there are significant infrastructure needs within Theodore Roosevelt National Park itself. Just this week, six miles of scenic roadway in the park were closed indefinitely due to slumping from erosion underneath the road. This is on top of the already existing $50 million in deferred maintenance needs for national park sites throughout North Dakota. Yet there is little to no funding currently available for these repairs.
If we are to bring citizens from around the country to see all that North Dakota has to offer, we must prioritize our national parks and service the aging roads, bridges, trails, and water systems throughout.
Last week, members of Congress stood together to send a message that we must invest in crumbling infrastructure within our entire National Park System, which has a cumulative deferred maintenance backlog of nearly $12 billion. Thankfully, Sens. Hoeven and Cramer and Rep. Armstrong have all signed on to bipartisan legislation that would provide over $6.5 billion to help repair our parks.
As a developer, it is easy to see the potential of a project like the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library from a tourism, development, and educational perspective. Yet it is heartbreaking to witness the crumbling, historic infrastructure in TR National Park, one of the nation’s and North Dakota’s greatest treasures. We must unite around the notion that we cannot simply construct new infrastructure without first rebuilding and strengthening the existing systems.
I believe Theodore Roosevelt would likely agree; it is not only our challenge but our opportunity to preserve and protect the nation’s beloved national parks, to unite and connect North Dakota communities, and to restore our infrastructure for generations to come.