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Road repairs to begin in TRNP North Unit

Press Photo by Jennifer McBride Workers will bring equipment into the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota this week, staff said Monday. Then workers will begin a $2.4 million reconstruction project on the Scenic Drive, shown here Sunday.

A $2.4 million construction project on a nearly one-mile portion of road in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park will begin later this week and visitors will be able to take the 14-mile Scenic Drive through the park in mid-October if all goes as planned.

The road has been closed to vehicles since last summer, but pedestrian traffic has been allowed on the western section of the North Unit road.

But that will change.

"When construction starts, bikers and walkers will also not be allowed to access the road until the construction is through," Eileen Andes, the park's chief of interpretation, said Monday afternoon. "We are doing that for safety purposes because of all of the heavy equipment that will be moved into that area."

Construction workers will bring equipment into the park and they'll start staging for the project this week, she said.

Andes said the road six-and-a-half miles into the North Unit of the park developed a "pretty large slump" late last summer and it needs to be repaired so vehicles can regain access to the road.

The cost of fixing the North Unit road and a spot on a South Unit road is $2.4 million, which Andes said will be funded with emergency relief for federally-owned roads.

"The thing about the roads in the units is that they are built in the Badlands," she said. "That means the ground is made of rock and soil material that erodes fairly easily, and with last year's moisture, it caused slump and sliding of the ground and the road in that area fail.

TRNP is one of the top tourist attractions in North Dakota, said Kim Schmidt, public and media relations manager with the North Dakota Department of Tourism, although she could not say if it ranked No. 1 or not.

But, according to the National Park Service Public Use Statistics Office, the traffic count on the Scenic Drive visitor center area, traffic in May and June was up from last year.

"In some areas, the road has buckled so it all has to be repaired. If the roads weren't in the Badlands where the geography is different, they probably wouldn't need so many repairs, but the geography is what gives the Badlands such beautiful scenery to look at."