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Heiser: Western North Dakota isn’t so ‘legendary’ anymore

Once upon a time — not long ago, actually — western North Dakota was indeed “legendary” in many respects which the rest of America found attractive.

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For instance, its vast and uncrowded landscape, or its bounty of peaceful solitude far from the madding crowds of much of America. Legendary also fit the western culture which was a direct derivative of the land and sky themselves — and those of us who lived and worked here in those halcyon times liked what we had a lot.

Most of us, I suspect, did not take our good fortune for granted. We knew instinctively that this was good place to spend a lifetime, one absent the noise, traffic and general chaos of busy cities, and all of that. We did not feel a need to define it as “legendary” — we simply knew it was and lived accordingly, which of course furthered the image.

Living in a naturally legendary landscape made us who we are, and we didn’t pay much attention to whether or not the State Tourism Department was, well, paying much attention to us.

Life on the range of western North Dakota was maybe not quite perfect with its weather vagaries and maybe too many people — but then Big Oil discovered our place and brought general chaos on a mega-scale.

The vast mass of western North Dakotans really do not appreciate — let alone like — the greedy lunacy of another oil boom. See, we’ve been there before and not a whole lot of good came from those previous booms. In fact, they typically leave quite a mess in their wake, one which we longtime residents will end up cleaning up and paying for to one extent or another.

Unfortunately, western North Dakota is not so legendary anymore — unless one counts scary traffic on roads, power lines and pipelines and dusty roads running pell-mell across a landscape better suited to cows, horses and pronghorn antelope. We don’t want to be legendary for oil and saltwater spills, and night skies glowing from gas flares. Are there fireball oil trains in our future as well?

With all due respect to the Tourism Department, having a Hollywood actor and L.A. resident may not do much to restore our legendary image, even as he speaks for a place he certainly does not know now, and perhaps never did.

Tourism may also want to reconsider their “legendary” campaign when it comes to western North Dakota — heaven forbid that they engage in deceptive advertising.

Heiser is a Dickinson State University graduate, a lifetime Badlands naturalist, seasonal backcountry Ranger in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and cattle rancher near Grassy Butte. His maternal great-grandparents homesteaded near Dickinson in 1891 and his paternal grandparents near Grassy Butte in the early 1900s.