MEDORA - The boom in the Bakken oil field is closing in on one of the state's most treasured historic sites Theodore Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch.
A bridge across the Little Missouri River is proposed to be built immediately north of the site of Roosevelt's cabin, and the mining of gravel to the east. For the congressionally-chartered Theodore Roosevelt Association the projects represent distinct threats to the very ground where Roosevelt developed his conservation ethics.
The U.S. Forest Service is closing a comment period this week on its Environmental Assessment of the proposal to mine gravel on grazing lands. The mining is to take place directly across the Little Missouri from the cabin site, "within the viewshed of the porch on which Roosevelt often sat and viewed his ranch on summer evenings during his years in North Dakota" says a release from the TRA.
In addition, the Federal Highway Administration is holding two public hearings on the proposed bridge in Billings County. If built, says the TRA, citing estimates by the Billings County Commission, the bridge could accommodate more than 1,000 trucks a week.
The proposed projects have raised the ire of Tweed Roosevelt, great-grandson of the former president and president of the TRA. He fired off an e-mail to TRA members, saying, "I know that many of you have visited the Elkhorn Ranch, where Theodore Roosevelt spent the bulk of his time when he ranched in Dakota Territory, and love it as I do. It is a very special place and deserves to be protected from those who would destroy its pristine tranquility for short term gain."
The e-mail contained an additional appeal from Lowel Baier, president emeritus of the Boone and Crockett Club. Boone and Crockett was founded by Teddy Roosevelt in 1887. Baier called the T.R. cabin site "The Birthplace of Conservation" and "The Walden Pond of the American West" where America's conservation movement was inspired.
The site of Roosevelt's cabin is fenced property and part of the National Park System. Land adjacent to it, known as the Elkhorn Grasslands, is owned by the Forest Service. The owner of the nearby surface minerals has applied for a permit to mine gravel which, according to the TRA, is for the purpose of selling to the oil industry for building roads to new oil development sites in the area.
Tweed Roosevelt and Baier say they are seeking national monument status for the historic cabin site. Roosevelt met with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office this past March, asking the president to designate 4,400 acres of the Elkhorn as a national monument by executive order.
Roosevelt and Baier are requesting that comments on the gravel pit be sent on or before June 8 to the Forest Services district office, Medora Ranger District, 99 23rd Avenue West, Suite B, Dickinson, 58601. A public meeting on the road and bridge is scheduled for tonight from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Bismarck Kelly Inn and also Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Medora.