The Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the University of Utah invited people from the Dickinson area to a community engagement meeting on Tuesday night to look at ways tourism can grow not only at the park, but in western North Dakota in general, and how they can achieve that goal together.
The meeting was part of an ongoing visitor use study being done with various universities and the park. The study is a two-year endeavor and will eventually include a regional meeting as well.
The participants were broken up into groups and tasked with answering a variety of questions about how tourism already affects their lives.
They first asked the groups to "discover" and talk about what Dickinson has to offer for tourism. Participants brought up things like Dickinson being a family-friendly community, the West River Community Center, the Dinosaur Museum, Dickinson State University and the amount of hotels in the area. Groups also noted the closeness of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Next, groups were asked to "dream" and come up with things they would like to see in the next 25 years in the area. Groups mentioned wanting more partnerships with the national park and a diversity of programs within those partnerships.
After outlining their dreams, groups were tasked with trying to "design" how they could achieve them, as well as how to make those dreams part of the area's "destiny." They were asked to consider what people or groups could help make those dreams a reality and when, where and how those dreams could be possible, including various partnerships and funding mechanisms that could help.
One group spoke about the importance of making the local area "buy in" to what the park has to offer. They came up with the idea to build more educational opportunities between the local schools and TRNP that could be more hands-on.
"We can build more awareness and appreciation within the local community for the park, something's that basically just next door to us," one group member said.
Groups also talked about ways that the promotion of the park could be increased, as the national park is not allowed to promote itself directly, among a variety of other ideas.
Kelly Bricker, community meetings and survey coordinator for the study, said the exercise aimed to help people think more broadly about tourism and the ways it impacts the area as a whole.
"I think some people might have been expecting more concrete questions specific to the park," she said. "Our goal was to get a broader swath of ideas and have them think more broadly about partnerships. Our hope is that they expanded their thought a little bit more and thought about the future a little bit more."
Wendy Ross, superintendent of TRNP, said she was "impressed" with the level of participation during the meeting. She also felt the questions and ideas were presented in a positive nature that sought to improve the park.
"When you start thinking about how we can work together to resolve this problem and how do we create something that's sustainable for the future, that changes the whole problem-solving situation," Ross said.
Bricker said she could feel the excitement the participants have for the area, the park and tourism in western North Dakota.
"Getting communities to support the park and getting the park to look at how they can increase partnerships, I think that was really enhanced... through the discussions people had," she said.
Ross said many of the ideas that came up during the meeting on Tuesday were things that have come up during discussions with park staff as well.
"Ideas like more youth education, keeping the park open year round and especially keeping the road open year round ... it's nice to know that we're already starting to work on those kinds of things and we're beginning to resolve those issues," she said.
Ross added that visitors get a more well-rounded experience when they're able to see what the communities around TRNP have to offer, rather than spending time exclusively in the park.
"We need to rethink our visitor survey with our communities in mind," she said. "The phrase that I use constantly is 'share the love.' We would love to have our visitors experience all that there is to experience in western North Dakota and that gives a better visitor experience inside the parks."
Another community meeting will be held in Medora on Thursday, April 26 at 7 p.m. at the AmericInn. One was also held in Watford City on Wednesday, April 25.