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Grandstrand: Protect ND’s extraordinary places before it’s too late

North Dakota needs to protect its extraordinary places. I can’t believe anyone would disagree. This state holds some of the most magnificent features in the country that just happen to be atop some of the most valuable resources in the world.

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I have been watching the Ken Burns’ documentary “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” If you have 12 hours and a Netflix account, I highly recommend it. I have learned without the national parks, some of the country’s greatest natural wonders could be cattle pasture, reservoirs and mines, including key parts of the North Dakota Badlands.

Katherine Grandstrand

Even after its designation, people were using Yellowstone National Park as pasture and for hunting bison. In California, the Hetch Hetchy Valley of Yosemite National Park was dammed to create a reservoir for the citizens of San Francisco — people still drink water from that reservoir.

It takes an act of Congress for a tract of land to become a national park, but only a declaration of the president for a place to become a national monument. Several places — the Grand Canyon included — became protected national monuments before receiving the full protection of a national park.

This is how the extraordinary places in North Dakota should be handled. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s initial list offers a good start of places that should protected. Let the North Dakota Industrial Commission flush out the list and send it to the Legislature to decide which sites get protection and how much.

I was heartbroken when I visited Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s North Unit for the first time in June and saw an oil rig from the road at the park’s north edge after a four-mile hike through some gorgeous terrain. While a rig is only there for about a month, a well is there for 20 to 30 years. The pump jacks might be much shorter than a rig, but they still make a lot of noise.

I was also excited to hike White Butte this past summer — North Dakota’s highest point. The land is privately owned, but the owners allow hikers to make the trek for a small fee to help maintain the trail. I’m not sure if it was because it was really wet before we made the hike or if it was because the landowners abandoned grooming it altogether, but the grass was long and I was afraid of rattlesnakes and ticks along the way.

While I would never expect the landowners to give up their land — White Butte has been well taken care of — it would be nice if the state, with all its funds, would take over grooming responsibilities or at least the costs associated and publicize this hike more.

North Dakota has the Badlands — our 26th president was healed here. The state needs to protect them for future generations. Imagine a world without Yellowstone or Denali or Glacier national parks.

We could have a world without the Badlands as we know them.

The extraordinary places proposal doesn’t want to stop drilling in those places. It just wants a little more oversight at particularly beautiful areas in North Dakota. A little extra red tape to make sure industry doesn’t ruin the most beautiful and historically significant part of the state. If it wasn’t for a private citizen digging into drilling records last year, we could have an oil well right next to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit of the park.

This process would only flag development inside the proposed buffer zone and let officials know it’s near something special, possibly prompting further review to make sure it won’t impact the experience of these places.

It might take a little longer for development in those places, but why not take the time to do it right and make sure the places are preserved the way they should be?

Grandstrand is a reporter for The Dickinson Press. Email her at Read her blog at

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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