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After he became president in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt pursued his love of nature and the outdoors by creating the U.S. Forest Service and signing the 1906 Antiquities Act, under which he proclaimed 18 national monuments.

He also obtained congressional approval to establish five national parks, as well as set aside millions of acres of land as national forests and 51 wildlife refuges. As a conservationist, Roosevelt is arguably without equal among American presidents. So it seems appropriate that he is the only president for whom a national park has been named, and that Theodore Roosevelt National Park is located in western North Dakota, where many of his early experiences formed his later environmental efforts.

Roosevelt first traveled to the North Dakota Badlands in 1883. Before returning home to New York, he became interested in the cattle business and joined two other men as partners in the Maltese Cross Ranch. The following year, Roosevelt returned to North Dakota and established a second open-range ranch, the Elkhorn, which became his principal residence in the area.

During his frequent visits, Roosevelt led what he called the "strenuous life" that he loved. When he wasn't studying botany or herding cattle, he hunted, fished, and enjoyed the camaraderie of fellow Dakotans, some of whom would later form the nucleus of his Rough Riders.

Roosevelt arrived in the Badlands soon after the last of the bison herds had been slaughtered, and he spent much time pondering what was being done to the animals and land around him. He carried those thoughts and convictions, born on the Dakota prairie, into his later political life. He wrote, "I would not have been President, had it not been for my experience in North Dakota."

Badlands & Buffalo

The colorful, broken landscape of the North Dakota badlands provides the scenic backdrop for Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Carved over millions of years by the natural forces of wind and rain and the tireless waters of the Little Missouri River, this land is home to a variety of animals and plant life.

Over 65 million years ago, streams carried eroded materials eastward from the young Rocky Mountains, then deposited them on a vast lowland, today's Great Plains. During the warm, rainy periods that followed, dense vegetation grew, fell into swampy areas, and was later buried by new layers of sediment. Eventually, this plant material turned into lignite coal. Some plant life became petrified.