JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Much Ado About Nothing

“What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.”

— Ecclesiastes 1:9

Hmmm. Nothing new under the sun. Perhaps North Dakota Gov. Douglas Burgum needs to spend a little time with his Bible. Wise man, that Solomon.

I’m referring to Burgum’s much ballyhooed announcement of the creation of an Office of Outdoor Recreation in North Dakota. Ummm, Governor . . . been there. Done that. This is nothing new.

A little history, from the National Association of State Outdoor Recreation Liaison Officers:

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 (P.L. 88-578) allocated a substantial portion of the Land and Water Conservation Fund for state purposes and authorized the Secretary of the Interior to make grants to the individual states for outdoor recreation planning, land acquisition and development. Upon satisfaction of certain requirements, the Secretary could make payments from the states’ portion of the Fund to  ‘… the Governor of the State or to a State official or agency designated by the Governor by State law having authority and responsibility to accept and to administer funds paid hereunder for approved projects.’ Anticipating that each state would have a different procedure, possibly involving
a separate official for each function, the Secretary formally requested each governor to designate a single ‘state liaison officer’ with which the Department of the Interior might work in implementing all aspects of the program.”

That was 1965. Almost 60 years ago. That same year, the North Dakota Legislature established the North Dakota Park Service, along with the State Outdoor Recreation Agency to assist the Park Service with planning park improvements. And to “accept and administer funds paid hereunder for approved projects.”

Gov. William Guy appointed a young fellow named John Greenslit to be director of the new North Dakota State Outdoor Recreation Agency.

As North Dakota’s “state liaison officer.” John initially didn’t get much more than a salary, some travel money and an office in the State Water Commission building on the Capitol Grounds, with a phone and access to the secretarial staff of the Water Commission.

North Dakota’s Lewis and Clark Trail signs are found all along State Highways 1804 and 1806.
North Dakota’s Lewis and Clark Trail signs are found all along State Highways 1804 and 1806.

But John made the most of it. Although he was just 24 years old, he was actually a member of the governor’s cabinet. Much was accomplished during those early SORA years, including building state parks on Lake Sakakawea, and building, paving and designating North Dakota State Highways 1804 and 1806 as the Lewis and Clark Trail in North Dakota, tracing the explorers’ path in those two years from where the Missouri River enters the state from Montana to where it exits the state into South Dakota, with one highway on each side of the river. It’s probably the best tribute to the Lewis and Clark Expedition of any of the states they traveled through.

John traveled to meetings with other state liaison officers and together they created the National Association of State Outdoor Recreation Liaison Officers. The organization needed officers, and when it came time to elect a secretary, they looked around the room, and John told me in a phone call this week, “there were no women in the group (heh, heh) and I was the youngest person in the room, so I was named secretary.”

John went back to Bismarck and filed incorporation papers as a nonprofit organization with the North Dakota Secretary of State. The organization’s incorporation papers remain in North Dakota today. In fact, many years later, when former North Dakota Parks and Recreation Director Doug Eiken retired, he became executive director of NASORLO, and he donated the group’s organizational records, including meeting minutes, correspondence, annual meeting material, documentation of activities and projects, printed material, published articles, photographs and films, taking up 6 feet of shelf space in the North Dakota State Archives, to the State Historical Society of North Dakota, now their “forever home.”

Notice Doug’s title: North Dakota Parks and Recreation director. In 1977, the State Parks Department and SORA were merged, and renamed the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department. So while we no longer had a separate Outdoor Recreation Agency, in its new home with the State Parks and Recreation Department, the process of developing and promoting outdoor recreation sites was re-energized and has been active ever since.  Well, maybe not so much lately. Hence Burgum’s announcement.

Under Eiken’s leadership in the 1980s, we saw a host of tourism and recreation sites developed and improved with state and mostly federal funds, including Fort Union and Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Sites, Theodore Roosevelt National Park Visitor Centers, Fort Mandan and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, the Custer House and other Fort Lincoln buildings at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park south of Mandan and many other public places, including the Lawrence Welk Homestead near Strasburg and boat ramps and state parks on Devils Lake.

I was State Tourism director during those days, and we worked with the private sector as well, helping develop a number of private resorts on Lake Sakakawea and Devils Lake and using a new Roads to Recreation Areas federal funding program, we worked with Highway Commissioner Richard Backes’ staff to build boat ramps — and roads to get to them — all over the state, as well as interpretive sites at rest areas and even at a golf course in the Bad Lands.

The Department also sponsored a 25-year run of the Prairie Rose State Games, North Dakota’s Olympic-style multisport festival, which attracted more than 100,000 North Dakotans of all ages until it was discontinued during Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s time in office. Even me. I got a medal for competing in the Volksmarch and got to play a round of golf with legendary Fargo Shanley football coach Sid Cichy. He won.

Yeah, we’ve had a pretty good Outdoor Recreation effort over the years, as a result of first SORA, and then its merger into the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department, with great cooperation from the Game and Fish Department, establishing more than 100 new fishing lakes around the state and building boat ramps to get on them.

So while I applaud Gov. Burgum’s efforts to revive our emphasis on outdoor recreation, I’m not quite sure why he thinks he is doing anything new. He called the news media to Fort Lincoln State Park last week to read an executive order (you can read the whole document here, all 19 hyperbolical  “Whereases,” and two pages of “Now Therefores”) in which he said the new agency will be “….  a multiagency body comprised of representatives from Parks and Recreation Department, Department of Commerce, Game and Fish Department, Forest Service, Indian Affairs Commission, Health and Human Services Department, Department of Public Instruction, Department of Transportation, Job Service ND, Department of Water Resources, Department of Trust Lands, North Dakota Historical Society (whose name is actually State Historical Society of North Dakota) and the Outdoor Heritage Fund …”

Well. Pretty much the same folks State Outdoor Recreation Agency Director John Greenslit sat around the table with as a member of Bill Guy’s Cabinet in the 1960s.

I guess Solomon was right. There is nothing new under the sun. Even if a governor and would-be vice president tries to make it so.

How about a little more Ecclesiastes from The Byrds?

5 thoughts on “JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Much Ado About Nothing”

  • Richard Henry Watson May 16, 2024 at 11:20 am

    Pete Seeger and the Byrds nailed it–what would be knew under the sun these days would be a political leader that was not venal, half-cracked and out for the power game win–that would be new–Doug is among “spiritual people” and “Evangelicals” who cherry pick their biblical materials–as noticed by that lovely photo of he and others with upside down bible Don–you on the other hand, as usual, have given me truth and hope–that SEEMS new even if it is not–

  • John Burke May 16, 2024 at 2:13 pm

    It was embarrassing to see Burgum paying fealty to The Orange Stain as part of the navy-suit-red-tie brigade at the courthouse in NYC. He apparently wants to be the VP candidate so badly that he’s willing to degrade himself by attacking the justice system and ratifying the emperor’s new clothes.

  • Kevin Bonham May 16, 2024 at 7:54 pm

    Well done, Jim. Thank you for sharing the history lesson.

  • John Frederickson May 17, 2024 at 10:23 am

    C’mon, Jim! Doug Burgum hasn’t forgotten the good old days. He is, in fact, a throwback to them – Jack S. Phogbound in the flesh.

  • Dina Butcher May 19, 2024 at 3:34 pm

    to be the old guy in the room who remembers such stuff! Good


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