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Officials: Gravel pit on Elkhorn Ranch jeopardizes historic site

Park officials and environmentalists are afraid that a proposed gravel pit at the Elkhorn Ranch near Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit, as shown above Sept. 9, may threaten wildlife and the historical integrity of the site, despite the U.S. Forest Service's findings that it would have a minimum impact on the area.

A potential gravel pit on the Elkhorn Ranch near Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit should have limited effects on wildlife in the area, but park officials and environmentalists say both are in jeopardy.

"The Elkhorn Ranch is the most historically significant part of the park," TRNP South Unit Superintendent Valorie Naylor said. "It's still very much the way it was when Theodore Roosevelt founded it in 1884, and we are striving to keep it that way."

Mineral rights owners have the opportunity to develop land for gravel, Medora resident Peter Odermann said.

"As a landowner myself and if I had gravel in places, I would sure hate to not be able to mine the gravel just because of that," he said of it being on U.S. Forest Service land.

The Forest Service released its environmental analysis of the gravel pit Monday and will give the public 30 days to respond to the report, said Babete Anderson, Forest Service public affairs officer in Bismarck.

The organization will look at the comments and then make a decision by the fall.

The TRNP Elkhorn Ranch Unit sits on 218 acres of land about 30 miles north of Medora. The gravel pit would include about 26 acres of Elkhorn Ranch acquired by the Forest Service. The South Unit is about three-quarters of a mile southwest of the gravel pit, according to the report.

Peggy Braunberger, formerly of Medora, and Roger Lothspeich, Miles City, Mont., own 27 percent of the mineral rights, according to the report. The rest is split by multiple owners.

Braunberger and Lothspeich declined comment Friday.

The Forest Service purchased the Elkhorn Ranch in 2006 but failed to obtain all the mineral rights.

Braunberger submitted an operating plan to the Forest Service in 2008, which has been revised. Field reviews were conducted Oct. 18, 2010, and June 16. The Forest Service investigated several issues, including the negative effects on tourism for the ranch and the south unit.

The Forest Service should try to obtain the mineral rights to prevent the gravel pit's construction, said Wayde Schafer, spokesman for the Dacotah Chapter of Sierra Club in Bismarck.

"It seems a shame to allow somebody to go in and dig it up and mar the historical significance," he said. "Just because it is legal to do something, that doesn't make it morally right."

The report states private minerals were not available at the time of land purchase.

Schafer added utilizing the site for a gravel pit would be a waste.

"There is plenty of gravel to be dug in North Dakota, but there is only one Elkhorn Ranch," he said.

Naylor said residents need to try to maintain the integrity of the ranch.

Go to to review and comment on the analysis.