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Elkhorn Ranch 'most endangered': Roosevelt's land added to list of threatened historic places

The Elkhorn Ranch, pictured above in this undated photo, was named to the list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

Elkhorn Ranch in Billings County was named to America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced Wednesday.

Today, people will meet to discuss a proposed river crossing near the ranch.

Billings County officials are pushing for a Little Missouri River crossing to improve travel times and provide better emergency access. The sites are not on ranchland, but opponents say the area needs to remain wilderness.

The ranch belonged to Theodore Roosevelt and encompasses more than 23,000 acres on both sides of

the Little Missouri River. It is threatened by a proposed bridge and road project that would disrupt the site, officials said during the conference.

"Our effort there will be to protect the Badlands ranch that inspired one of America's great conservation presidents from incompatible development," said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "The '11 Most' list serves as an alarm when important places are threatened and often that has been enough to galvanize the necessary groundswell of support to protect these iconic places."

The study area for a Little Missouri crossing does not include the Elkhorn Ranch, according to project plans on the Billings County website, but those who spoke during the conference want it far away from the ranch.

"The Elkhorn Ranch today, although the building isn't there, the view shed and the feel of it, it is still as much wilderness as it was when Theodore Roosevelt was there and that's what we're trying to protect," said Tweed Roosevelt, great-grandson of Theodore Roosevelt. "This is a site that depends upon the fact that it is in a wilderness area. It has often been called the cradle of civilization because that's where Theodore Roosevelt really coalesced his ideas about the threat that our natural resources faced in the United States."

Washington, D.C., attorney Lowell Baier said he is aiding in the effort to have 4,400 acres of the ranch designated as a national monument and Tweed Roosevelt said he sent a letter to President Barack Obama regarding such a designation.

In addition, a gravel pit is proposed on the ranchlands, which would also have an impact, those in attendance said.

Dave Pieper, a Bismarck resident who retired from his position as grasslands supervisor for Little Missouri National Grasslands about a year ago, said it's "terribly important" to move quickly to find alternatives for the projects.

After the conference, Pieper said the sights and sounds of any development on or near the ranchlands would alter visitors' experiences.

"When you're out at the Elkhorn Ranch, one thing that strikes you is it's very quiet and you have a sense of solitude," Pieper said. "If you've got the hum of truck traffic in the background -- the semis with their Jake brakes and all that sort of stuff -- it's going to, in my view and probably a lot of people's view, alter the character of that area."

He said the oil and gas development that has already taken place on the ranchlands is "in the background," but he worries it will begin inching into the foreground.

A public workshop regarding Little Missouri River crossing ideas begins at 5 tonight at the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame in Medora.