JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Charlie Creek To Belfield — A History Lesson

The last major threat to the visual integrity of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, at least that I can recall — though there have been many skirmishes with the oil industry — was in 1989, when the Western Area Power Administration came really close to putting a huge transmission line along the east boundary of the South Unit of the Park.

I’m reminded of that in the context of the Meridian Energy Group’s horrible idea to put their proposed Davis Oil Refinery in about the same place, along the east edge of the park.

In the 1960s, WAPA, one of four federal power marketing administrations that serves our part of the United States, determined there was going to be a need for more electricity in part of its region in the future, and Basin Electric, headquartered in Bismarck, had surplus power to sell. All that was needed was a way for Basin to get its power into the WAPA system.

They determined that the best way was to build a transmission line — one with those big metal towers — from Basin’s Charlie Creek substation in McKenzie County, near the junction of state Highway 200 and U.S. Highway 85, to tie into an east-west WAPA power line near Belfield, N.D., about 40 miles south. WAPA commenced a federal Environmental Impact Statement process to find the best location for the line and its towers (unlike Meridian, which refuses to even submit to a state site review process) in 1969, and issued a draft EIS.

Some 20 years later, when demand reached the point that WAPA decided it needed the extra power, it commenced a review process with a public comment period and public hearings on the project. The review process focused on two identified corridors for the power line: a western line, called W1-1, which was four miles shorter and a million dollars cheaper than one farther east, called E-4-1R. WAPA recommended using the shortest, cheapest route, W-1-1.

Unfortunately, that route ran beside the eastern boundary of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and would have been visible from most high places in the park. The eastern route ran alongside Highway 85, five miles or so east of the park, and out of sight from the park.

So in the spring of 1988, WAPA published a notice of its intent to build the line next to the park and opened a public comment period. Tracy Potter and I were running the State Tourism Office at the time, and if WAPA could have picked any two people on the planet it did not want in THAT office at THAT time, it would have been the two of us. Our boss, Gov. George Sinner, turned us loose to organize against building the line next to the park.

In advance of the public hearings, which were to be held in Belfield and Grassy Butte, N.D., on July 26-27, 1988, we got on the phone and began rounding up supporters to send letters to WAPA, asking it to move the line east, to the highway, out of sight of the park. We did a pretty good job.

U.S. Sen. Quentin Burdick wrote:

“In recent days, I have received a number of letters from concerned citizens who believe that the route recommended for the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) will have long term negative effects on the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. As well, the North Dakota Tourism Office and the State Highway Department have also expressed opposition to the recommended route.

“It seems clear from the concerns raised by the opponents that WAPA should reconsider the options and seek a more acceptable routing for the line. Granted, the additional $1 million in construction costs must be an item of consideration. However, when viewed in the context, it seems the additional $1 million is not too large a price to pay to protect such a national treasure as Theodore Roosevelt Park.”

How about that! Why don’t we have U. S. senators like that anymore?

And Congressman Byron Dorgan wrote:

“The visual impact (on Theodore Roosevelt National Park) is unacceptable. I hope you will hear the concerns of myself and of many others who are committed to protecting the natural, scenic beauty of the Badlands.”

I know that our newest senator at the time, Kent Conrad, weighed in on this as well, but I can’t find his letter.

Even our boss, Gov. Sinner, and his lieutenant governor, Lloyd Omdahl, sent a jointly signed letter (although I think Tracy probably wrote it for them):

“North Dakotans have jealously guarded the Badlands scenic areas from avoidable intrusions. Consequently the Park today still provides awesome views of natural beauty unmarred by artificial structures. Whether or not future generations will be able to share this beauty will be determined by this generation and the decisions it makes about development in the area. We must proceed cautiously in the consideration of proposals to change the landscape.”

Other letters came from concerned citizens, and the usual suspects — the National Parks Conservation Association, the Sierra Club, the Theodore Roosevelt Nature and History Association and others, many of whom are now involved, 30 years later, in the current fight to move the Davis refinery away from the park.

Tracy led the testimony at the public hearing in Belfield, followed by TRNP’s Chief Ranger Bob Powell, Gary Redmann from the State Highway Department representing then-Commissioner Walt Hjelle, Wally Owen from Medora, who ran the horse concession in the park, and finally, batting cleanup, Medora Mayor and President of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation Rod Tjaden, who I think was also state chairman of the Greater North Dakota Association, the state’s chamber of commerce, at the time. (Humorous aside: Tjaden, not known for hanging out with the environmental crowd, sent me a note a few months later that said “Dammit, Fuglie, I’m getting mail from the Sierra Club, and it’s YOUR FAULT!”)

After the public hearings, WAPA went into hibernation for about six months, and in early 1989 released its final EIS, with its final recommendation on a route for their transmission line, which concluded with this statement:

“Through public comment, it was determined that visibility of the line from residences, local urban areas and TRNP was of significant importance. In particular, a large number of comments expressed concern for the visibility of the proposed line from TRNP. It was determined that the agency-preferred route would be changed from W1-1, as specified in the DEIS, to E4-1R (the environmentally preferred route).”

A loud cheer could be heard throughout western North Dakota. The system worked. The park was protected.

Well, that’s our history lesson for today. Sadly, history doesn’t often repeat itself. A month or so ago, I sent letters to our current governor, Doug Burgum, and to our congressional delegation, asking them to meet with the Meridian people and ask them to move the proposed refinery away from the park. I got a couple of responses.

This in an e-mail from Jodee Hanson in the governor/s office:

“The Governor respects the public comment period, which is still ongoing, and is staying apprised of the Department of Health’s permitting process being conducted within the boundaries of the law.”

To which I responded:

“Thanks for the note Jodee. Relay to everyone there that the ‘boundaries of the law’ are the minimum standard for action by public officials. There is much more that can, and should, be done. Like a one-on-one between Burgum and Prentice, heart to heart, CEO to CEO. I am inspired by Julie Fedorchak and Connie Triplett seeking a PSC review. The governor could make that happen by putting the hammer down on Prentice: “Y’know, Bill, we’re in this together for the long haul. We’re going to be looking at each other and talking to each other for a long time. Let’s be responsible and see what a PSC site review tells us.”

I also got an e-mail from a staffer for Congressman Kevn Cramer:

“Congressman Cramer has been in contact with both the N.D. Department of Health and EPA ensuring the project meets human health and environmental requirements.”

To which I responded:

“Relay to everyone there that meeting the “human health and environmental requirements” is not enough in this case. There is much more that can, and should, be done. As a former State Tourism director, Kevin understands the impact on our National Park. I’d suggest a one-on-one between the congressman and Meridian CEO Bill Prentice, heart to heart. I am inspired by Julie Fedorchak and Connie Triplett seeking a PSC review. The Congressman could help make that happen by meeting with Prentice:”

I’ve not heard anything from our two senators. I’m going to send them, along with Cramer and Burgum, a copy of this blog post to remind them of what can be done if everyone pulls their own weight.

Maybe. Just maybe …

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — ‘Steamboats In Dakota Territory’: A Book Review

“Steamboats in Dakota Territory: Transforming the Northern Plains,” Tracy Potter. The History Press, 2017, 140 pages.

I can think of no one more qualified to enlighten readers on the history of steamboats in Dakota land than Tracy Potter, Bismarck, the author of the book “Sheheke: Mandan Indian Diplomat.” Potter is deeply read in history and his work leading the Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation steeped him in the background for this volume.

He sets the scene in his introduction and the initial chapters, describing the world of the Native Peoples as well as early explorers and trappers, who used the Missouri River for their travels. Then, the steamboats began to arrive:

“Steamboats’ speed and power transformed a region and forever affected relations between the United State and the several Indian nations of Dakota. …Steamboats provided a distinct and overt technological advantage to the American. They carried large loads — of trade goods, men, guns and cannon. They were impressive, useful and an object of considerable skepticism among the Indians.”

Prior to reading this book, I knew only the most rudimentary facts about this colorful chapter of history and its impact on the development of the area.  Potter’s extensive research and the book’s bibliography are appreciated.

Potter tells the tales of Kenneth McKenzie and Grant Marsh, and of steamboats Yellow Stone, Spread Eagle, and the famous Far West, the steamboat forever linked to the Battle of the Little Bighorn. He also highlights the steamboats of the Red River and Devils Lake and describes the deeply sad story of the steamboats role in the spread of smallpox.

The photographs that illustrate this volume help the reader imagine a time period when the banks of the Missouri at Bismarck and Pierre, S.D., were bustling with steamboats, their crew and passengers and the economic activity they drove.

“For the non-Indians involved with steamboats, they provided relatively rapid and generally safe transportation, commerce and communication. Steamboats stimulated the growth of cities, and as settlements increased in number and size, the boats stitched the region together. … For the twenty-first-century reader, most of all what steamboats provided were stories.”

The book is available at the Fort Lincoln Commissary, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Pick up this book, sit back, and enjoy the stories.

More photographs from Steamboat Park, Bismarck.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Of Cougars, Dipshits And Teddy Roosevelt

When was the last time someone called you a dipshit? I swear, I hadn’t heard that word in 20 years, or maybe 30 or 40, until this week, when somebody called me that in a comment at the bottom of my blog.

I remember it as a word we used back in the 1950s or ’60s, to describe someone we didn’t like, most often a bully who would pound us bloody if he heard us calling him that. It was generally a word reserved for someone we really, really disliked.

I can remember my sister, Laurelle, shortening it to “dip” back in junior high or early high school, talking about some creepy guy as in, “He’s a real dip,” because she’d never have used the word shit in a sentence. That was then. She’s matured some since.

My favorite dictionary, the Urban Dictionary, defines it as “A despised person; a moron; an ineffectual person; one with a habit of being wrong, loudly and often.” OK.

So then why did this person who used the name “Waynean” in a comment on my blog say, “Hey, dipshit, couldn’t read the article but scanned quickly. I was too disgusted by your misspelling of Badlands throughout. It’s one word. There is no alternate spelling/wording. You are a disgrace to North Dakota.”

Ouch. A disgrace to North Dakota. I don’t think I’ve ever been called that, either. That’s worse than dipshit.

I don’t know who this person might be, but they use the handle “kasotacougar” in their e-mail address. As in kasotacougar@ … Now I know Kasota is a town in Minnesota, and as I puzzled over that, I recalled hearing that there is a new definition for “cougar” these days, one that is not a mountain lion in the North Dakota Bad Lands. Back to the Urban Dictionary:

“Cougar: An older woman who frequents clubs in order to score with a much younger man. The cougar can be anyone from an overly surgically altered wind tunnel victim, to an absolute sad and bloated old horn-meister, to a real hottie or milf. Cougars are gaining in popularity — particularly the true hotties — as young men find not only a sexual high, but many times a chick with her shit together. “That cougar I met last night, showed me shit I didn’t know existed, I’m goin’ back for more.” (milf, by the way, the Urban Dictionary says, means “Mother I’d Like (to), well, you know)

Well. I guess you’re never too old to learn something new.

So I’m figuring Waynean is a fake name for a woman on the make from Minnesota who somehow found my blog and didn’t like the way I spelled Bad Lands. WTF? I hope she knows I’m almost 70 years old.

Which brings me back to matters at hand. Let’s talk about Bad Lands. Badlands. badlands. How should it be spelled?

Anyone who’s been reading my blog for the last eight years knows that I prefer Bad Lands. Two words. Capitalized. And that’s what the hottie from Minnesota took exception to. So let’s talk about it. Let’s go back to 1986.

In 1986, I was the North Dakota Tourism director and my friend, Tracy Potter, carried the title deputy tourism director, but was actually much more than that. (I was a figurehead and the public face of an “industry” trying to establish its credibility as an important piece of the state’s economy. Tracy was the brains behind the face.) One day, Tracy came into my office and dropped a proof of a brochure on my desk and said “It should be Bad Lands. Two words. Both capitalized.”

Until that moment, I had given little thought to that. In my world, I guess, I had always just thought of it as one word. Badlands. I think that was because the official government spelling of it was badlands. Sometimes, capitalized, sometimes not. As in Badlands National Park, the one in the other Dakota. If you go to the website for Badlands National Park, you’ll find this:

“Why is it called the Badlands?

“The Lakota people were the first to call this place ‘mako sica’ or ‘land bad.’ Extreme temperatures, lack of water and the exposed rugged terrain led to this name. In the early 1900s, French-Canadian fur trappers called it ‘les mauvais terres pour traverse,’ or “bad lands to travel through.”

“Today, the term badlands has a more geologic definition. Badlands form when soft sedimentary rock is extensively eroded in a dry climate. The park’s typical scenery of sharp spires, gullies, and ridges is a premier example of badlands topography.”

And that made it official. Thus spake the U.S. government.

But do you see what they did there? As they told us what the Indians and the trappers called it, the word “bad” is an adjective. “Land bad.” “Bad lands to travel through.” That’s what those who were here before the government was here said. These are some baaad lands, look out for them. Hard to get through them. They were bad. BAD!

And then they just slipped in badlands in the next sentence as one word, a noun. Boo. Hiss. There’s no justification for that. A “geologic definition.” Yes, badlands happen when Mother Nature does her job. Badlands are the new topography, after millions of years of Mother Nature being at work. OK South Dakota, you can have Badlands National Park. But Tracy was right. Up here we got some Bad Lands. Don’t believe me? Just try to travel through them.

Looking back, now, I don’t recall if we ever established a firm policy in our travel literature. We used two words when we thought we could get away with it. The National Park Service out in Medora, following the lead from its sister park down south, used one word. So did the folks at Gold Seal, who ran the Medora attractions. We dabbled from time to time with two words, but newspapers and school books and CVB’s and the government using one word outnumbered us.

I think we were at least successful in getting everyone to capitalize it, but for the most part, it remained Badlands. One word. Still used by the North Dakota Tourism Division today. (I went to the Tourism Division’s website and entered “Bad Lands” under their search button. The website responded “No results available.” But when I typed “badlands” I got 28 results, everything from the Bully Pulpit Golf Course to the Lone Butte Guest Ranch. Case closed.

Still …

There are some things worth fighting for. My friend, Ed Schafer, and I have been jousting about it for years. He says Badlands. I say tomahto. Problem is, there’s no one with more credibility to declare what the official word for North Dakota’s top tourist destination shall be called. Ed was, after all, governor, the Tourism Director’s boss. He was also Secretary of Agriculture, the boss of, among other agencies, the U.S. Forest Service, which manages our state’s million acres of grasslands, most of it in the, er, Bad Lands, or Badlands. And he’s the scion of the Schafer Family that gave us Medora, the shining star of the, er, Bad Lands, or Badlands. And chairman of the board of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation. Big timber. I concede to his decree, with a smile. One word. Officially, Badlands.

I wanted to use A.T. Packard’s 1884 newspaper as an example of why we should use Bad Lands, but he didn’t even know how to spell Cowboy.

Still …

I’m not going to quit using two words. Here’s why:

I’ve got Teddy Roosevelt on my side.

Our 26th president, who we North Dakotans claim as one of our own, who lived and ranched here and who said he would never have been president were it not for his time here, ALWAYS used two words. Bad Lands.

Roosevelt was our writingest president. And probably the subject of more books than any other president. Our library here at 920 Arthur Drive gives him his own shelf. So do many libraries in the state, in the country, in the world.


“My own ranches, the Elkhorn and the Chimney Butte, lie along the eastern border of the cattle country, where the Little Missouri flows through the heart of the Bad Lands.” — “Hunting Trips of a Ranchman,” by Theodore Roosevelt.

“Occasionally it is imperatively necessary to cross some of the worst parts of the Bad Lands with a wagon, and such a trip is exhausting and laborious beyond belief.” — “Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail” by Theodore Roosevelt.

“When in the Bad Lands of the Western Dakotas the late September breezes grow cold …” “Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter” by Theodore Roosevelt.

I’ve just pulled three sentences from three of his books, but be assured he made a conscious decision, throughout every one of his books and in his personal correspondence, to use Bad Lands — two words, capitalized.

And his biographers said, “If it’s good enough for TR, it’s good enough for me.”

“The train stirred, gained momentum, and was gone, having accomplished its immediate mission, which was to deposit a New York ‘dude’ politician and would-be hunter named Theodore Roosevelt, in the Bad Lands of Dakota.” — “Roosevelt in the Bad Lands” by Hermann Hagedorn.

“Theodore’s interest in the Dakota Bad Lands probably began with Commander Henry Honeychurch Gorringe, the former naval officer .…” — “Mornings on Horseback” by David McCullough.

“On November 16, a spell of ‘white weather’ settled down over the Bad Lands, as Roosevelt left his southern ranch and headed north to the Elkhorn.” — “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” by Edmund Morris (winner of the Pulitzer Prize).

Here’s a 1925 poster advertising a trip to the Bad Lands, before the government got all snooty and decided it should be Badlands. Poster courtesy of the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University.

I don’t know to this day how we spurned the greatest resident, ever, of the North Dakota Bad Lands, Theodore Roosevelt, and gave the greatest and best part of our state a geologic name, badlands, instead of the dramatic name it deserves: Bad Lands.

And I’m sticking with it. Ed and I will continue to disagree and laugh about it, but I’m just a blogger who’s a bit too big for his britches, and I know that no one really cares if I choose to go my own way. Including Ed. Well, except for that cougar over in Minnesota who thinks I’m a dipshit.

By the way: Is dipshit one word, or two?