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Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch on National Historic Register

Visitors take a trek in Theodore Roosevelt National Park's Elkhorn Ranch on July 14. The hike has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The U.S. Forest Service announced Thursday that the Elkhorn Ranch and Greater Elkhorn Ranchlands in Theodore Roosevelt National Park have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Serving as Theodore Roosevelt's home for a time between 1884 and 1887 -- before he was elected as the country's 26th president -- the Elkhorn Ranch consists of 216 acres of undevelopable land in the TRNP.

Referred to by the Forest Service as a "largely honorific" designation, the adding of the 4,402 acres of public and private ranchlands to the register does not provide any legal protection of development in the area, but it does put the Elkhorn Ranch in some prestigious company.

"The oil boom will inevitably encroach on the Elkhorn Ranch," Jenkinson said. "This distinction is a move in the right direction, but with the mix of state, private and federal land, there is still a lot uncertainty as to what will happen around the ranch. Hopefully, this place and the land surrounding it will be maintained and kept just the way it is for future generations of North Dakotans and visitors from around the country and around the world."

The head of the Forest Service also hailed the move as an important step.

"Teddy Roosevelt would be very pleased today," said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell in a statement. "This designation officially puts Elkhorn Ranch on the map as a destination for Americans who want to visit and learn more about one of the 'cradles of conservation.'"

Often referred to as the "Cradle of Conservation" by environmentalists and conservation organizations, the site, about 35 miles north of Medora, becomes one of more than 4,000 historic sites on the registry, according to the release.

"This is one of the most sacred places in the history of American conservation," said author, lecturer and Theodore Roosevelt historian Clay Jenkinson from Bismarck. "But it's also important to remember that this designation doesn't provide any actual protection. What it does provide is awareness of this amazing place."

While the approximate 200 acres of land at the heart of the Elkhorn Ranchlands cannot be touched, the rest of the area -- a mixture of public and private lands -- has no such restrictions.

Conservationalists have been against a proposed Billings County bridge that would span the Little Missouri River between Watford City and Medora, hobby ranches in the Badlands, and the ever-expanding reach of oil and gas industry mining.

Jenkinson went on to cite the importance of ranchers, oil industry leaders and lawmakers working together to make sure certain lands in North Dakota are protected.

The process to apply for a spot on the list of historic places was started in 2007, just five years before the distinction became official, a time frame that surprised TRNP Ranger John Heiser.

"I'll be darned," Heiser said Thursday. "It is a shock to anyone in the conservation field. Things don't happen very quickly on the conservation front and good news is scarce."

The Forest Service purchased the Greater Elkhorn Ranchlands in 2007 with the support of multiple partners, including Friends of Elkhorn Ranch, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Ducks Unlimited.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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