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Landowner closes access to Medicine Hole

A photo submitted by Brian Benz and Craig Dvirnak show a no trespassing sign at the base of the Killdeer Mountains and Medicine Hole northwest of Killdeer. Landowners Benz and Dvirnak have closed Medicine Hole to the public.1 / 2
The Medicine Hole area in the Killdeer Mountains is seen on Sunday, May 25. (FNS Photo by Amy Dalrymple)2 / 2

KILLDEER -- Amid a year of debate over private property rights in the area, the landowners of Medicine Hole has closed it to the public.

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The site, near the Killdeer Mountains northwest of town, is a sacred prayer spot to Native Americans and also a popular hiking destination.

In an announcement about the closure, landowner Brian Benz and neighbor Craig Dvirnak say the reason for the closure is the disrespectful “actions, comments, activities and beliefs” of the National Park Service, Tom Isern and his Center for Heritage Renewal, the Killdeer Mountain Alliance, the state’s tribes and North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

While the general public has acted like or believed it had the right to access Medicine Hole and the top of the mountains, Benz and Dvirnak wrote, “the general public presumed, but never had, this right; it was only because of the gracious generosity of the private landowners that the public enjoyed this privilege for so many years.”

Benz and Dvirnak weren’t immediately available for comment.

The National Park Service last year commissioned Isern to do a study to find the true boundaries of the 1864 Killdeer Mountain Battlefield. The study ruffled area landowners’ feathers after they found, through public hearings about a transmission line proposed for the area, that the study was OK’d before landowners knew about it. Most of the land is private.

Isern didn’t want to comment on Benz closing the property.

The Killdeer Mountain Alliance formed in response to development that members said threatened the mountains -- like Basin Electric’s proposed power line. There’s since been a divide between landowners concerned about the power line’s effect on the mountains and those that feel it’s up to individual landowners.

Rob Sand, a leader in the Killdeer Mountain Alliance, said he’s saddened at the closure, which he thinks may be Benz’s response to the group’s activism.

“It’s almost all private property and that’s fine but that doesn't mean that people can’t still care about the Killdeer Mountains,” Sand said.

“It’s just real sad that perhaps other people are being punished for the perceived sins of activists and I thought this was a free country where people will express their opinions and disagree without being disagreeable,” he said. “But this feels quite disagreeable.”