Within a short time after the death of Theodore Roosevelt on January 6, 1919, there were proposals to establish a memorial in his honour.
Various studies that included ideas for national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, scenic roads, and state parks took place across the country. An appointed a committee selected Medora.
The 1921 North Dakota legislature instructed their representatives in Congress to assist by setting land aside for a park.
The Little Missouri Badlands were explored in 1924 by a party of forty to outline an area for a Roosevelt National Park.
The following year, a tour of “cowboys and Congressmen”, a larger group of federal, state, regional officials, interested parties, and news media conducted an inspection camping trip through the “Grand Canyon of the Little Missouri.”
This resulted in the approval of the park idea. One early plan calling for a 2,030-square-mile park was opposed because it included too much good stock land for the liking of local ranchers.
Further studies and proposals for a park took place. Drought, overgrazing, and crop failures in the 1930s forced many homesteaders to sell their land to the federal government for as little as $2.00 per acre. A portion of these new federal holdings was set aside for a park.
In 1934, a cooperative agreement to start a Roosevelt Regional Park Project was signed by the Resettlement Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the National Park Service, and the State of North Dakota.
The CCC operations began immediately and were administered by National Park Service employees.
By 1935, The North and South Roosevelt Regional Parks were designated the Roosevelt Recreation Demonstration Area (RDA).
Development by workers from the CCC, the Works Projects Administration, and the Emergency Relief Administration included construction of roads, trails, picnic areas, campgrounds and buildings.
All projects ended in 1941. North Dakota’s state government announced that it did not want the land as a state park.
In November 1946, the RDA was officially transferred to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge.
On April 25, 1947, after several compromises, President Truman signed the bill that created Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park.
This included lands that roughly make up the South Unit and the Elkhorn Ranch site today.
The North Unit was added to the memorial park on June 12, 1948. Additional boundary revisions were made in later years.
On November 10, 1978, the area was given national park status when President Carter signed a bill that changed the memorial park to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
This same law placed 29,920 acres of the park under the National Wilderness Preservation System.
See map of the park.
We would like to thank Bruce M. Kaye, Chief of Interpretation, and Victoria Mates, District Naturalist, at Theodore Roosevelt National Park for information provided for this page.
(This page was updated in November 2012.)