Theodore Roosevelt
Administrative History
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To fully understand how Theodore Roosevelt has been managed in its first thirty-five years, one must recognize the political overtones of its establishment. The point cannot be emphasized too strongly: William Lemke's legacy was not just a park, but a National Memorial Park.

The memorial designation produced two lasting consequences. First, it made Theodore Roosevelt the "odd park out" in guidebooks and popular literature. Publicists tended to ignore it altogether because it wasn't a "full-fledged" national park and couldn't be easily classified anywhere else. This, combined with its remote location, meant that people usually lapsed when it came time to write about Theodore Roosevelt. Someone as well informed as John Ise, the eminent economist and historian, did not even get the name right. [1]

Perhaps they shouldn't be judged too harshly, for it cannot have been clear to outsiders why the Park Service classified Theodore Roosevelt as a historical area—the second, and for our purposes more important, consequence of the memorial designation. Until the Maltese Cross cabin was moved to Medora in 1959, the only historical resource directly connecting the park to the man it was memorializing was a detached 218-acre tract of badlands, thirty miles from any decent road and more than twenty from the main units of the park. It took a sharp eye to tell the difference between this, the site of Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch, and any other bit of the Little Missouri River bottoms, for no buildings stood there nor had any since the turn of the century. [2] The rest of the park derived its historical qualities from intangible associations with Roosevelt or from being part of the 1880s cattle boom in Dakota Territory.

Much of the administrative history of Theodore Roosevelt has been shaped by the memorial designation and the ensuing management as a historical area, to which the park was ill-suited. Everything from formal planning to site development to the park's mission bore the stamp of the political compromise that brought into being a national memorial park.

Planning the park

Nowhere were the effects more evident than in the contents of the NPS planning documents for Theodore Roosevelt. Although there are any number which might be discussed specifically, three are considered here: master plans, statements for management, and the Basic Operations Declaration. A fourth, the interpretive prospectus, is treated in Chapter 12.

Until they were superseded by general management plans, master plans were the single most important element in the NPS planning process. They set forth the mission of the park, factors influencing its operation, and all future development projects. Theodore Roosevelt had three attempts at a completed master plan: in 1963, 1967, and 1973. [3] Although none ever received final, official approval, when taken together their contents give a good general indication of how the park's management practices evolved.

The 1963 plan was a "packaged master plan narrative" arranged, as the name implies, according to a predetermined format, rather like an environmental impact statement. [4] Its contents were anything but formulaic, however, broaching some ideas which were not realized until the 1970s. It in turn was replaced, at least nominally, by the 1967 Master Plan—nominally, because this version did not progress beyond the draft stage and was never officially approved, although it received a full-scale revision in 1970. Enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that year changed the nature of park planning: the new law required a revision of the 1967 plan since the original did not follow procedures specified under it. [5]

Yet another draft master plan appeared in 1973. It was substantially similar to the 1967 plan and received tentative approval. But the 1973 plan was never finished because there was neither sufficient money nor staff to do the environmental impact statement required by NEPA. [6]

In the absence of an approved master plan, the controlling management document has been the park's statement for management. It recounts all factors affecting administration of the park, and is reviewed and updated frequently. [7] Theodore Roosevelt has had three statements for management, done in 1975, 1981, and the current version dating from 1985. [8] The staff is also guided by the Basic Operations Declaration, dating from 1982. It is a synopsis of park resources and present management programs. [9]

The end result of the post-NEPA planning process is the general management plan, which outlines all aspects of management for a period of ten to twenty years. General management plans replace the old master plans and differ from them in two ways: the process leading to the final GMP requires the Service to provide the opportunity for public participation by other agencies and private citizens; and anything in the GMP can be changed in mid-term with the approval of the regional director. Funds have recently become available to begin work on a general management plan for Theodore Roosevelt. The first public hearings were held in March 1984. [10]

The effect of the memorial designation on the park's mission

The most important thing to be gleaned from these plans is a sense of Theodore Roosevelt's mission as a national park unit. The rationale Lemke used to engineer the park's creation relied mostly upon the historical value of the area, but the unprecedented (and unrepeated) designation of Theodore Roosevelt as a national memorial park meant that the Service was not really bound to manage it in any particular way. Indeed, until the 1963 Master Plan was completed there was no broad directive on how the park should be managed, though the evidence that is available suggests that the park was managed as a historical area from the beginning. [11] Theodore Roosevelt was not officially classified as a historical area until 1964, when Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall formally divided the National Park System into natural, historical, and recreational areas, but early on the staff did give the lion's share of attention to cultural resources. Only a handful of natural science monographs pertaining to the park date from before 1964, as compared with the reams of material churned out by archeologists and park historians (for which see Chapter 10). [12]

In the early years Service personnel were nevertheless confused about the purpose of the national memorial park. In 1961 a management inspection reported a "lack of clarity" among the staff as to the mission of NPS at Theodore Roosevelt. The inspecting official recommended that human and natural history each be given "its proper weight in the total picture" so as not to exclude the other. [13]

The 1963 Master Plan reflected this recommendation, couching the mission in rhapsodic language emphasizing the intangible benefits of national parks. "The purpose of Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park is to yield to the nation inspirational benefits through the experiences of visitors in this area of historic significance and scenic appeal," it stated. The park was also to be at the same time a kind of "natural research laboratory," a place where "those who seek relief from the pressures of urbanized civilization can enjoy the benefits derivable from places where nature's hand is still free." [14]

The 1963 Master Plan seemed to be leaning toward giving human and natural history equal stature, but the next year NPS published Udall's organizational plan. Entitled Road to the Future, it officially put Theodore Roosevelt in the historical category. [15] So when a new master plan was published in 1967, the "primary resource" of the park was identified as "Roosevelt's association with the Badlands and the open range cattle industry of the 1880s" and its mission became

to memorialize Theodore Roosevelt by preserving, making accessible, and interpreting—for the benefit and the enjoyment of the people—historic sites and features associated with him, as well as representative sections of the North Dakota Badlands that he loved so well, and where, as a young man, he hunted and ranched on one of America's last frontiers—an adventure which Roosevelt said prepared him for the Presidency.

This statement was repeated verbatim in the 1973 Master Plan. [16]

Not everyone was comfortable with the lopsided emphasis on human history. After a staffing study in 1968 found Theodore Roosevelt had the largest shortage of personnel in the entire System (eight management and protection people doing the work of twenty-two), Superintendent Arthur Sullivan was moved to write to the regional director:

The findings merely confirmed what we suspected all along; that Theodore Roosevelt is the most understaffed and overworked park in the National Park System. . . . There is one other possible explanation for the apparent understaffing, although it is so remote we hate to even suggest it. It is conceivable that, although categorized a historical area, our operations are more akin to natural areas. Just for the heck of it we suggest this park be re-analyzed and compared with other parks in Table II [which listed the natural areas of the System]. [17]

Sullivan's intuition—that Theodore Roosevelt was more a natural than a historical area—was echoed when the park staff re-evaluated its management objectives in 1969, [18] and was expressed more explicitly as momentum for redesignation began to build in the years following. The 1975 Statement for Management, discussing the paradoxical position into which the memorial designation had placed the park, admitted "it is now widely held that the primary values of most of the park are natural rather than historic". [19]

Of course, when Theodore Roosevelt did finally become a national park in 1978, the statement of mission shifted to an overt emphasis on natural resources. Noting that less than one percent of the park area is directly linked to Roosevelt, the 1980 revision of the 1975 Statement for Management declared:

The significance of the park's natural resources was originally attributed to their role in shaping the life of Theodore Roosevelt during the era of the "open range" cattle industry, which consequently influenced his role as a conservationist during his Presidency of the United States. Today the primary significance of the park is that it affords individuals the opportunity to experience and to reach an understanding of it [the badlands], as Roosevelt once did. This significance is further magnified by the major impacts occurring on adjacent non-park lands. [20]

Because of the memorial designation the park was managed as a historical area for its first thirty years, even though it was far better suited to management as a natural area.

The effect of the memorial designation on the park's development

Similarly, until 1978 development priorities were definitely weighted toward cultural rather than natural resources. Every major planning document gave precedence to the Elkhorn Unit's development over that of the much more heavily-used North and South units. [21] While this was partly due to the desire to fulfill the provision in the enabling act for the ranch's reconstruction, basically the series of ambitious plans for the Elkhorn were a way to justify the historical area management approach that came with the memorial designation.

The first Elkhorn development scheme did not appear until the publication of the 1963 Master Plan because necessary background research took most of the 1950s. It was proposed at the height of MISSION 66 and with the hope that a parkway would be built along the Little Missouri connecting the three units (for which see Chapter 11). The Elkhorn was to be a full-blown living history site, with reproductions of all the buildings of Roosevelt's day, a working herd of longhorn cattle, and blacksmith demonstrations. As the focal point of the parkway it would require additional land (some 1500 acres) on which to place a motel and service station, restaurants, saddle horse livery, 200-site campground, automobile pull-outs, and self-guiding trails, all to accommodate a projected 440,000 visitors each year. [22] A proposal very similar in scale was put forward in the 1967 Master Plan. [23]

Plans for the Elkhorn drawn up in the early 1970s were, by contrast, circumspect. Much more concern was shown for the effects of development upon nearby ranches and the natural environs, reflecting the beginnings of a shift in the park's management emphasis. For example, whereas in 1967 the connecting parkway had been called "not only desirable, but necessary to fulfill the Congressional mandate" to reconstruct the Elkhorn, [24] the 1973 Master Plan declared the parkway impracticable because "almost all the land involved would be private and a large number of private ranch properties would be disrupted" and because "a study has been proposed by the Forest Service to consider the Little Missouri River through the Badlands as a natural recreation riverway. To propose development of road improvements of parkway along the river would be preemptive and undesirable while such studies are being considered." [25]

New, streamlined plans for the Elkhorn appeared in the 1973 Master Plan and in an environmental impact assessment of 1976. They called for almost no development on the actual site, with perhaps only the ranch house being reconstructed. Infrastructure would be hidden away east of the river. There, visitors using the existing unimproved roads (the East River Road from the South Unit and the Blacktail Road coming in from U. S. Route 85) would find a terminal parking lot a half-mile from the site. Minimal facilities and four units of seasonal employee housing would be the only buildings, requiring the purchase of 40 acres instead of 1500. Scenic easements would be bought from adjacent landowners to preserve the historic ambience, with access to the ranch site by foot bridge and walking path only. [26]

All these plans went toward making a tiny, remote plot of land which had averaged 200 visits a year into the centerpiece of the park. Most of the effort was motivated by the memorial designation, which, in effect, diverted attention from more pressing development needs—especially in the North Unit which is still without an adequate visitor center. In this respect, repercussions of the memorial designation continue to be felt today.

Re-creating the park: the omnibus bill of 1978

The movement to redesignate Theodore Roosevelt as a national park began as soon as President Truman signed the national memorial park into existence in 1947. In other words, sentiment for a national park was never extinguished. Many in North Dakota saw the memorial designation as simply an interim phase on the way to what was always referred to as "full" national park status, status which would confer prestige on the park and the state and make them both more attractive to visitors. [27] On occasion the State Assembly voiced this sentiment in appeals to NPS for a name change. [28]

Among the park staff, on the other hand, the desire was perhaps not so much for a national park designation as for any kind of change that would reclassify the park as a natural area; Superintendent Sullivan's comments, quoted earlier in this chapter, are an example. Toward the end of the 1960s they found their days occupied more and more by natural resource issues, while nominally following management plans that identified the development of the Elkhorn Unit as the park's first priority. New demands were being made of the staff, and they called into question the feasibility of continuing to manage Theodore Roosevelt for its historical qualities.

In the early 1970s a concerted effort to have the park renamed was started by tourism promoters and the state's politicians. Groups such as the Old West Trail Foundation, a travel marketing consortium covering five states, passed resolutions deploring the "undefined and meaningless" status of the national memorial park, and alleged a "lack of exposure" in both the Park Service's own promotional literature and commercially-produced guides. Because, they said, Theodore Roosevelt complemented "the other great Western parks" it deserved to be made "a fully qualified National Park under law." [29] Sentiment of local civic leaders was much the same. As the mayor of Medora put it, while a national memorial park has "the connotation of a graveyard plaque," the surrounding communities would benefit from increased tourism engendered by the prestige of having a national park nearby. [30]

North Dakota Senator Quentin Burdick assured that attention would be paid to these sentiments when he introduced legislation into the 92d Congress to have the park redesignated. It was the first of four such bills he sponsored in the 1970s. [31]

Until the summer of 1978, the NPS Washington Office (WASO) and the Department of the Interior opposed Burdick's legislation. Questioning whether Theodore Roosevelt satisfied the qualitative criteria for national parks, and citing various administrative precedents against redesignation, the central authorities argued instead for changing the land-use zoning within the park so that it could be managed as a natural area.

In general, the Service requires national parks to be areas large enough for three purposes: to encompass a "number of outstanding natural features," to allow for management of comprehensive biotic communities, and to provide for a wide range of public use. [32] In 1973 the Midwest regional director wrote WASO in reference to Burdick's first bill and the mounting support for redesignation within North Dakota: "We are aware that the Old West Trails Association [sic] and tourism interests within the State of North Dakota are interested in seeing this name change. However, by applying the NPS criteria for park lands, we can see no way in which to support this designation change that would imply this area is a natural area of the park system." [33]

This statement became one of the precedents WASO used to argue against later versions of Burdick's redesignation bill. For instance, after Theodore Roosevelt became part of the Rocky Mountain Region in 1974, that regional office came out in favor of redesignation "since the park contains the best example of Badlands topography with related plant and wildlife associations to be found in North America," but its recommendation was countermanded by WASO partly on the grounds of the previous position of the Midwest Regional Office. [34]

Another important precedent involving national park criteria was Truman's veto of the first park bill in 1946. The president had rejected Lemke's initial legislation because he had been advised that "the area to be established by this bill as the Theodore Roosevelt National Park does not possess those outstanding natural features or scenic qualities that would justify its establishment as a national park." The Department of the Interior and WASO were reluctant to disregard this precedent in the absence of "the strongest possible justification" of national park criteria. [35]

Moreover, WASO argued that "Congress created this national memorial park in recognition of its historical association with Theodore Roosevelt," and since "the designation 'Theodore Roosevelt National Park' connotes important natural significance rather than historical significance . . . the proposed title does not represent the purpose for which the area was authorized—specifically, to perpetuate the memory of Theodore Roosevelt." [36] However, WASO elsewhere admitted "the establishment history of this park leaves the significance of its resources to some degree unresolved," since the 1947 Senate report on the proposed park depicted conservation of natural resources as its principal objective. Still,

when the park was authorized as a national memorial park, the significance of its natural resources was attributed primarily to their role in shaping the life of Theodore Roosevelt rather than to any intrinsic properties of the resources themselves. The validity of this evaluation remains a subject of controversy, particularly in view of the fact that the historic structures related to Theodore Roosevelt and the associated natural resources necessary to preserve the historic scene include a relatively small part of the park, the remainder of which is related to Roosevelt in only a symbolic or distant way. [37]

If any name change were to occur, the Department and WASO did not want it to be to "National Park." In a report to the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, they noted that "this area is the only one in the National Park System which carries the designation Memorial Park. Inasmuch as it does contain values historically associated with President Theodore Roosevelt, we believe a more appropriate designation, and one which the Congress has adopted in numerous other areas, would be 'Historical Park.' We therefore would have no objection to . . . the redesignation of the area to a 'National Historical Park'." [38] The Department offered to support the redesignation bills Burdick offered in the 93d and 94th Congresses if they were amended to provide for a "Theodore Roosevelt National Historical Park," [39] but the senator did not give in.

The Service's final argument against redesignation was that the park could for all intents and purposes be made into a natural area simply by re-zoning its internal land management classifications. [40] A WASO review of the park's 1975 Statement for Management sums up the complexity of the situation, and its preferred solution:

Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park presents unusual problems with respect to the park's purpose, the significance of its resources, and the classification of its lands. When the park was classified as an historical area, it was automatically listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Until National Register forms have been submitted to delimit specific areas of the park as the historically significant resources, the whole park will remain on the Register and must be classified as an Historic Zone.

It is now widely held that the primary values of most of the park are natural rather than historic. Although even natural resources not directly associated with Roosevelt may be said to commemorate his relationship with the Badlands, we understand that they are being managed to perpetuate an undisturbed prairie ecosystem rather than to preserve the prairie in the disturbed condition that prevailed during the Roosevelt years. It therefore is logical to eventually reclassify these lands as Natural Zones, restricting Historic Zones to areas directly linked to Roosevelt and intentionally managed to retain their historic aspect. . . . If these actions are taken, reclassification of the park as a natural area would be logical since only a relatively small area would retain an Historic Zone designation. [41]

All this without having to go to Congress for a name change.

North Dakota politicians and business interests did not want to settle for anything other than "full park status," though. In 1975, Governor Arthur Link convened a meeting of prominent business people, the state's congressional delegation, NPS personnel, and members of the national park advisory board of the Rocky Mountain Region to see what could be done about moving redesignation along. This ad hoc group persuaded the entire Rocky Mountain advisory board to make a trip to the park in June 1977. As a result, it passed a resolution calling on the Service and the Department to consent to national park designation. [42] At the same time the state legislature passed a resolution of its own asking for the same change of name because, in the first place, "political compromise rather than common sense determined that the area be designated a National Memorial Park rather than a national park," and., more to the point, "status as a national park would bring appropriate status and recognition" to Theodore Roosevelt. [43] Local and regional leaders were thus united on the issue.

The final phase of the redesignation effort began in October 1977 when House Resolutions 9601, 9630, and 9631 were introduced into Congress. These bills provided for, among other things, increases in park development ceilings, changes in boundaries, and designation of wilderness areas (including those in Theodore Roosevelt—see Chapter 7). [44] They were collated and reintroduced in May 1978 as the nucleus of Representative Phillip Burton's parks and recreation omnibus bill, H. R. 12536.

As originally written, H. R. 12536 provided for a Theodore Roosevelt wilderness but not for the boundary and name changes which eventually formed part of the final version in law. [45] The format of the omnibus bill encouraged emendation, however: it began as a potpourri of proposals, and in the late spring and early summer many more were added. On July 10, 1978, a block of seventy amendments was introduced for inclusion. Among them was Section 616, which read in its entirety, "The area formerly known as the 'Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park,' established by the Act of April 25, 1947 (61 Stat. 52), shall henceforth be known as the 'Theodore Roosevelt National Park." [46]

The Service had withdrawn its opposition. [47] Section 616 was made a permanent part of the omnibus bill. During the floor debate in the House, not a single word was said about this section prior to its approval, although the next day Representative Larry Pressler of South Dakota used it to bolster his argument for a similar amendment pertaining to Badlands National Monument. [48] When the Senate held its hearings in July and August the situation was much the same, with almost nothing said about the Theodore Roosevelt redesignation. The only substantive comment was a letter for the record from Burdick, who approved the name change as "the culmination of a thirty-year legislative effort to have this beautiful and historic site put on an equal basis with the other parks in the U. S. National Park System. . . . Currently the park has the dubious distinction of being the only national memorial park in the country, a classification which is elusive in its definition and its application." [49]

By October 1978, last-minute amendments put the omnibus bill into its final pre-passage form as S. 791. On November 10 President Jimmy Carter signed it into law as the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978 (P. L. 95-625; 92 Stat. 3467). He thought it "the most significant conservation legislation to pass the 95th Congress." [50] Although the parts pertaining to Theodore Roosevelt made up but a tiny fraction of the whole, [51] that fraction was important to the people of North Dakota out of all proportion to its size.

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Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004