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Badlands slumping closes section of road in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Slumping due to erosion from the Badlands' soft rock carried away this section of roadway near Badlands Overlook along the scenic drive of Theodore Roosevelt National Park's South Unit. About six miles of the roadway are closed to motorized traffic. Jack Dura / Bismarck Tribune

MEDORA, N.D. — About six miles of roadway have closed indefinitely due to slumping from erosion on the scenic drive of Theodore Roosevelt National Park's South Unit.

The roadway is closed from near a prairie dog town past the park's Cottonwood Campground to Badlands Overlook along the loop road. The slumping occurred about two weeks ago due to erosion from water underneath the road.

Eileen Andes, chief of interpretation and public affairs for Theodore Roosevelt National Park, said the park has no timeline to repair the road as no funding is currently available. The park is working with the Federal Highway Administration, she added. The roadway is closed to motorized traffic but open to bicycling and walking up to the damaged section, which is blocked off for safety.

Motorists may still drive about 30 miles of the park's loop road, but must turn around at Badlands Overlook. The road closure lengthens visitors' drive time by about 45 minutes in driving in and out, Andes said.

Maintaining park roads amid erosion of the Badlands' soft rock is a "constant issue," she added.

"Geology is just faster here than it is in other places," Andes said.

In 2018, the South Unit saw paving construction on the first few miles of its entrance road and its visitors center parking lot. A short section of roadway in the park's North Unit near Watford City was repaired in recent years but left with a gravel surface due to previous maintenance issues with paving.

Andes said park officials don't expect the South Unit's road closure to affect visitation to the park.

Justin Ell, executive director of the Medora Convention & Visitors Bureau, agreed.

"You are still able to take in the loop," Ell said. "You can still go around the other way and experience the park."

Doug Ellison, who runs the Amble Inn & Western Edge Books, Artwork, Music in Medora, said he hasn't heard grumbling about the road closure.

Medora's tourism season appears "off to a strong start," he added. Andes said the park's campgrounds had some flooding this spring, but are now open with water available.

"We're ready to go," she said.

Most people seem accepting of the park's partial road closure, Ellison added.

"In fact, I'm telling people it's an advantage because they can travel a good portion of the loop both ways and see the same terrain from a different direction and it looks completely different on the return trip," he said.

About 750,000 people visited Theodore Roosevelt National Park in 2018.