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Medora gears up for visitors

Natalie Beard, director of the Medora Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, poses inside the Billings County Museum, where her office is located. (Press Photo by Linda Sailer)

MEDORA — The streets of historic Medora are quiet, but there’s plenty of activity behind the scenes. Merchants are sprucing up their shops and filling the shelves in anticipation of of the 2016 visitor season.

Adding to the excitement, the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation is finalizing its summer entertainment, the Chateau de Mores State Historic Site is celebrating its 75th anniversary and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park is planning events marking the 100th anniversary of the National Park System.

Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation

The Medora Musical opens June 3 through Sept. 10. The western-style musical is dedicated to the legacy of America’s 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt and the time he spent in the Badlands.

“Last year, we had a landmark season at the Medora Musical with more than 120,000 attendees at the show in 100 days — this year, we anticipate a similar attendance,” Foundation marketing and communications director Justin Fisk said. “We’re going to have an all-star cast and a new host at this year’s Medora Musical.

“We always celebrate Harold Schafer and the spirit of the west. We will continue to include favorite parts of the Medora musical history. The Medora Musical will anchor its favorite parts, add new twists, a great cast and a new host.”

Because the gospel section of the Medora Musical has been a crowd favorite throughout the years, the decision was made to have a separate show that celebrates gospel music.

“That was the birth of a brand-new show called Medora Gospel Brunch,” Fisk said.

The show will be held in downtown Medora at the Chuckwagon. There will be one show on Saturday and two shows on Sunday.

“There will be all kinds of excellent brunch food to start and then about a 50-minute gospel high-energy, western show,” Fisk said. “It’s not church, but a celebration of some of the best gospel music you’ve ever heard. It will be a mix of Burning Hills Singers, a surprise guest performer or two, and hosted by the amazing Emily Walter.”

The first gospel-brunch performance is June 18 and continues throughout the summer.

“The gospel show itself will take place on stage and out in the crowd — it’s going to be cool,” Fisk said.

Other new attractions for the summer are the solo concerts planned afternoons at Medora’s Old Town Hall Theater.

“We will have Jared Mason all summer. He’s a long-time Burning Hills Singer and has had great success on Broadway, most recently starring as Jerry Lee Lewis in the musical, ‘MIllion Dollar Quartet,’” Fisk said. “He will bring some of his favorite songs when he was a Burning HIlls Singer, his classic yodeling song and some of his original stuff.”

Mason’s performances are 1 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, beginning June 10.

Other summer highlights include a Fourth of July celebration and a Veteran’s Day in Medora on July 10. There’s even talk of a flyover by vintage World War II airplanes, Fisk said.

Additional featured entertainment is planned at the Burning Hills Amphitheater.

“The concert dates will be announced soon, but for the first time ever, we picked three nights (June 13, July 14 and Aug. 22) when the Medora Musical will be dark to host something different,” he said. “The Bismarck-Mandan Symphony Orchestra is going on the road and doing a concert Aug. 22, just for Medora.”

In the middle the the summer, July 15-17 to be exact, the foundation is sponsoring its third annual Gathering of Theodore Roosevelts.

“We are sending our Theodore Roosevelt — Joe Wiegand — on the road during June to many National Park (Service) functions and gatherings specific to the anniversary celebration,” he said. “Theodore Roosevelt is known for his contributions to the National Park System. He put in millions and millions of additional acres into the system.”

Wiegand returns to Medora to open a Theodore Roosevelt Salute to Medora and the National Parks from July 12 through Sept. 10, with performances at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

The Medora Musical season doesn’t slow down just because it’s late in the season.

“We always have a big, exciting Labor Day at Medora — lots of guests are squeezing in their traditional Medora vacation,” Fisk said. “Sept. 10 is the finale of the Medora Musical, and we hold our Wade Westin Music Fest Sept. 4, when we celebrate the late, great former host of the Medora Musical. We also have a hot air balloon rally on the weekend of Sept.10-11.”

The Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation works in partnership with other entities in the area. The Maah Daah Hey Trail is planning its 100-mile bike race, while the Theodore Roosevelt National Park will be celebrating the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary.

“It’s a great opportunity for the people of Dickinson and people of the state of North Dakota to experience their national park,” he said.

Fisk credits the upcoming roster of events to a little bit of inspiration and an ear to the public.

“The people lead the charge, telling us what they want,” he said. “We also look to the past for guidance from Theodore Roosevelt, and to Harold and Sheila Schafter — what would they think about what we offer to the people of the region.”

Ticket information is available at Medora.com.

Medora Convention and Visitors’ Bureau

When visitors have a question about anything Medora — they can just stop at the office of Natalie Beard, Medora Convention and Visitors’ Bureau director.

A Great Falls, Mont., native, Beard started working in Medora in mid-March and is a graduate of the University of Montana. Her office is located at the Billings County Museum.

“We give out information on all entities in town,” Beard said. “The community is very open and everyone in the community has been offering a helping hand to me.”

She’s already putting finishing touches on an upcoming Ribs and Bluegrass event on May 14.

“It should be fun. We have six bluegrass bands and rib vendors on the lineup,” she said.

Other big events include the Cowboy Poetry Gathering on May 23 and 24, followed by the Badlands NDRA rodeo June 3 and 4, the opening of the Medora Musical weekend, and Fourth of July celebration.

“I’ve had lots of phone calls from people requesting information packets, and groups planning bus trips, as well,” she said. “Typically, two or three high school kids will help with the information desk, so I can take people around town for meeting spaces for family reunions and weddings. This is something new this summer. It’s nice to have somebody take you around instead of sending them on their way with lists.”

Beard works closely with CVB Board Chairman Jim Bridger.

“The purpose of the CVB is to coordinate tourism for the Medora area,” he said.

He pointed to several renovation projects in town, including the historic Joe Ferris Store and his own business, the Little Missouri Saloon.

“I got the idea from the Dickinson Downtown Association,” he said. “We are revamping things to give it an old 1880s saloon look. We are redoing the siding, took out the floor and did interior renovations. It will look spectacular with its wooden sidewalks.”

Chateau de Mores State Historic Site

The Chateau de Mores State Historic Site will resume its summer drama production of “Murder and Mayhem” in partnership with the Billings County Museum, and will host an open house on Aug. 7 to celebrate its 75th anniversary

“The drama is about the trial of the Marquis de Mores who is accused of murder of Riley Lufsey,” site supervisor Samuel Kerr said. “It gives visitors a different look at who the Marquis was.”

The drama will be held Saturdays and Sundays at the Billings County Museum.

The Chateau opened as a museum Aug. 7, 1941 — 75 years ago.

“Harry Roberts was the first site supervisor,” Kerr said. “He worked with the Marquis’ son, Louis, who was instrumental in bringing up the idea of preserving the house. He donated a lot of family things back to the house, and of course, the things that never left the house.”

A native of Grassy Butte, Kerr grew up knowing the story of the French nobleman who came out to western North Dakota with his vision of starting a meat processing business in the Badlands.

“The Marquis had an incredible vision of what he wanted to do out here — the town of Medora is here because the Marquis was out here.”

A favorite summer activity at the Chateau are the History Alive! presentations. These are free programs given on the porch of the Chateau, where reinactors will portray Medora Marquise de Mores, a newspaper editor and a German immigrant.

An important aspect of working at the Chateau are discoveries about the family — research done during the offseasons.

Kerr referenced an example of learning how and why the Marquise died.

“She died from complications of dysentery picked up in a tiger hunt to Nepal,” he said.

The Chateau is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturday. The summer season kicks off May 28 when it will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. seven days a week.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The Theodore Roosevelt National Park always has been a magnet for visitors in search of an outdoor experience, but this year will be special.

“Our big celebration is going to be Aug. 25,” said Eileen Andrew, national park chief of interpretation and public affairs. “Aug. 25 is the National Park Service Founder’s Day — that’s the day when the legislation was signed in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson establishing the National Park Service. That whole weekend is free and we’ll have a big celebration.”

In addition, the U.S. Mint is doing a series of American Beauty quarters — one for each state. The one or North Dakota will feature the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The quarter will be released at the park on Aug. 25.

Upcoming events include National Park Service Week on April 16-24, an opportunity to visit the park with no entrance fee. Other highlights include the annual Bird Walk, sponsored by the Theodore Roosevelt Nature and History Association on June 5, National Public Lands Day Sept. 24 and the annual Astronomy Festival Sept. 23-25.

The park also will host a Bio Blitz, a two-­day event in which teams of scientists, students, teachers and the public join forces to find, identify, document, and celebrate as many species as possible. Details of the Bio Blitz are still being finalized.

The mission of the National Park Service has remained the same over the century.

It’s to protect and preserve the wildlife and natural resources of the park for future generations, Andes said.

The park was established in 1947 as the Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park and to memorialize the time the Theodore Roosevelt spent in the Badlands.

“We never call him Teddy as a sign of respect,” Andes said. “He was known as the conservation president, setting aside more than 230 million acres of land for five national parks, 18 national monuments, and millions of acres of U.S. Forest Service land as bird refuges and wildlife refuges.”

Andes has seen an uptick in visitors to the park, and attributes the increase to unseasonably warm weather.

“If the weather continues as it does, I expect more visitors,” she said. “We want people to enjoy the park, we want to get kids involved and interested in the outdoors and away from their computer screens. It’s a great family activity to spend some time outdoors.”

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