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Hidden gem: Medora officials work all year in preparation for the busy summer season

Medora Mayor Todd Corneil assumed office in June and has focused on smaller-scale projects in preparation for another busy summer. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press1 / 4
File photo of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)2 / 4
File photo of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press) 3 / 4
View of Theodore Roosevelt National Park from the Painted Canyon. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)4 / 4

MEDORA—Medora never really stops preparing for summer — when the town's population spikes with the influx of tourists.

During the off-season, many shops and other businesses close down, though there are some that remain open year-round. The tourists, summer help and snowbirds may leave the quaint, historical town, but the city officials never stop working for Medora.

Todd Corneil, who served on the city council for eight years, tried on "another set of shoes" when he assumed the role as mayor in June. Since then, he and the council members have continued working on projects around town, such as remodeling the bathrooms in the community center or working on the local swimming pool and tennis courts with the parks and recreation leaders.

"We're just plugging away at the infrastructure when we can," Corneil said. "With the parks and rec., we're looking to expand that in a different way."

But Carla Steffen, the city's auditor, gave the elected board more credit than that.

"I think the Medora council deserves kudos for when the oil boom was here and the oil revenue was up. They took on some larger projects, but they didn't incur debt," she said. "Now as we're kind of waiting to see where the oil revenue is going to land, they don't have huge projects on the horizon because they feel fairly caught up right now."

In the past few years, the council chip-and-sealed city roads and redid Medora's fire hall, she said. They also paid for other major street improvements on the south side of town and installed an additional storage water tank to better accommodate the city's summer population.

"As far as our infrastructure, we had things that we're working on there that are not million dollar projects, but they're big projects for a small city," Corneil said. "They're all those things that happen that you have to take care of."

John Bey, who has served as the community's chief of police for 10 years, will be retiring at the end of March after nearly 52 years working in law enforcement. He noted that Medora's natural beauty is the obvious draw to the area, but getting to know the people in the community has also been influential.

From his extensive tenure, he has reduced the rules of community policing to two basic things: the community needs to know the police officers, and the police officers need to know the community. In a small town, this is even more important. Everyone tends to know everyone.

"In a small town, you may have to deal with someone in maybe not too great of a situation at 10 a.m., and you may have to eat lunch with them at noon," Bey said. "So it teaches you how to hone your people skills, and I think we have done a real good job of that. I think we have good standing in the community, and I think we've treated people right."

The other city employees and elected officials are no different. He has worked under three different mayors in town, all of who have been supportive of his department, he said.

With the summer season soon approaching, Medora is looking for summer employees to help out, Corneil said. One challenging thing is sometimes finding people who can or will make the drive to Medora for work. But he cited the good pay and excitement of the town as draws. Medora always needs lifeguards during the summer, and there are other positions open within some of the city departments.

Though there is a draw for tourists with the national park and historical elements, the local residents also appreciate Medora. Steffen was born and raised in the area, though she now lives in Beach. She remarked that people who grew up nearby really understand the town. Multiple entities work together to preserve the town's atmosphere and appeal.

"I think there's still that nostalgia when you pull into town, and our zoning ordinances are very tight in this town," she said. "The city is zoned a historic district, so if you want to change the paint color on your house, or any sign that goes up on any business, all that has to go through zoning — so we're a little unusual that way. I think that's kind of what keeps that historic ambiance when people come here, that kind of quiet feeling of getting away from the hecticness."

She called Medora a "hidden gem," noting that some people fly right by the exit, entirely missing out on all the city and park have to offer.

She remarked that many same-sized towns probably would not have a full-time auditor, but Medora has one because of the number of special events permits the city receives for weddings, birthdays, conferences and celebrations. Ultimately, they work all year in preparation for the busy season in order to ensure a smooth summer.

"It goes back to just maintaining your infrastructure and keeping things going like adding a larger water reservoir, doing the bathroom updates, doing the pool updates, doing our road updates," Corneil said. "Some of them are more grandiose projects than others, but they're all moving the city forward. When all those things cease to have improvements, that's where your smaller and smaller and smaller places are having trouble. ... Just keep moving it forward."