Erosion is constant in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where the colorful but crumbly Badlands are on full display. A scenic loop rings the park’s South Unit at Medora, taking visitors through prairie dog towns, river bottomland and layered bluffs. The park was established in 1947 as Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park, but the 21-mile loop wasn’t completed until 1968, when the final seven miles of road were laid. Visitors previously had to retrace the road from Wind Canyon and Buck Hill.
U.S. Senator Quentin Burdick and Congressman Tom Kleppe helped dedicate the last segment that fall. The senator observed: “There is a rapidly growing population in this nation with more and more free time to see the beautiful land. North Dakota is blessed with the most wondrous sights anywhere and roads such as this enable these people to visit these sights.”
Kleppe added that the project was another step in advancing North Dakota tourism, which today is the state’s third largest industry. The park’s superintendent and a U.S. Department of Interior official also spoke. First lady Jean Guy cut a ribbon at the ceremony. About 400 people attended. Bismarck police on horseback made a presentation of colors, and a motorcade of dignitaries led the way back to Medora.
The new roadway didn’t last long. Bismarck Tribune readers on this date in 1968 learned of a landslide cutting blocking 250 feet of the east section of the new road – barely four months after it was completed.
Six months later, a Dickinson construction company won the contract for repair of the road, which re-opened in time for the Fourth of July.
The Badlands continue to challenge the park’s roads. In the spring of 2019, a slump from erosion carried away a section of road near the Badlands Overlook. Afterward, several sinkholes and road movement also affected the road near the Ridgeline Nature Trail and Scoria Point Overlook. Repairs are ongoing.
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura
The Bismarck Tribune. 1968, July 31. Page 22
The Bismarck Tribune. 1968, September 23. Page 13
The Bismarck Tribune. 1968, November 19. Page 2
The Bismarck Tribune. 1969, May 23. Page 3
The Bismarck Tribune. 1969, April 28. Page 12
The Bismarck Tribune. 1969, July 2. Page 15