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Theodore Roosevelt legacy in North Dakota growing

The Maltese Cross Ranch cabin that Theodore Roosevelt once lived in sits quietly Thursday outside the visitor's center at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit entrance in Medora.

Less than a decade away from the 100-year anniversary of his death, Theodore Roosevelt's legacy continues to expand.

The newest example is the recently unveiled Theodore Roosevelt Trail project, an initiative born of Dickinson State University's Theodore Roosevelt Center that highlights 15 sites around North Dakota related to the 26th U.S. president who is revered in the Peace Garden State and beyond.

Landmarks from around the state are featured, including Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the Elkhorn Ranch and the "Young TR" statue that stands in front of the Stark County Courthouse in Dickinson, along with other tributes to the Rough Rider, such as a sculpture in the Old Main building on the North Dakota State University campus in Fargo.

The initiative ties the different sites together in a brochure and on the TR Center website and has information about each stop and how Roosevelt dedicated or inspired its creation. The center's website provides links and access to an abundance of information on Roosevelt's life and time in North Dakota, including writings, pictures, old newspaper articles and biographical insight.

Well-known North Dakota historian and author Clay Jenkinson said the TR Trail is an important tool that can be used to highlight the state's adopted son from New York.

"We know that Roosevelt had a much wider influence in North Dakota than just his legacy in the Badlands," said Jenkinson, who also serves as humanities scholar for the TR Center. "In working on this project, we discovered that every one of these sites has a fascinating, and as yet untold, story."

To encourage travel to the different sites, the webpage and brochure -- which is now available at rest areas throughout the state -- include a map and directions to each landmark. The webpage can be accessed by visiting the TR Center page and clicking on the "Theodore Roosevelt Trail" tab in the "Learn About TR" drop-down menu.

"The trail is a great new way to explore the history of North Dakota at sites that were influenced by (Roosevelt)," said North Dakota Department of Commerce Tourism Director Sara Otte Coleman, who visited DSU to see the creation last week. "The stops will allow travelers to see a large portion of the state and get a better appreciation for the impact Roosevelt has on North Dakota and the nation. I hope many take the challenge and see all sites this summer."

Before becoming president, Roosevelt first visited the Dakota Badlands in 1883 and would come to ranch in the region, later writing that he would not have become president if not for his time living here. From scenic highways and pieces of art to unforgettable wildlife refuges and a national park that bears his name, visitors along the trail will be able to learn how Roosevelt influenced the state before rising to national prominence as one America's most highly regarded leaders.

"This project encourages both North Dakota natives and visitors to the state to explore the lasting effects of Roosevelt's life," said TR Center Project Manager Sharon Kilzer. "The TR Center's work with the documentary record of TR's life creates one window into his legacy, enabling study and research in new ways. The TR Trail is another window to that legacy -- one that involves travel and direct experience of the sites where his impact remains."

Though the project is now exclusive to North Dakota, the architects of the trail hope to eventually expand it to other states.

"We want to encourage every other state, especially in the West," said Jenkinson. "We hope they use our template and create the TR Trail of Montana, Oegon, and so on."

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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