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DSU wants presidential library foundation to rebuild lost rodeo arena

These logs have been sitting on what was once the proposed site of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library -- now they will be moved to Medora, at a cost DSU does not want to pay. Iain Woessner / The Dickinson Press1 / 2
Moving these logs, debarked by hand, and the detritus left behind is a cost DSU does not want to take on as the proposed Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library will no longer be built in Dickinson. Iain Woessner / The Dickinson Press2 / 2

Dickinson State University had to sacrifice its rodeo grounds to make way for what was going to be the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library—but with the library gone now to Medora, what remains is an unkempt field, neglected logs and and a looming cost.

"Many of us were very hopeful that the library would go in Dickinson but we understand there are other desires by the foundation board," Nicholas Hacker, chair of the North Dakota State Higher Education Board's Budget and Finance Committee, said in a phone interview. "Our goal at this point was 'how to ensure the land will be returned in the condition it was provided. DSU provided ... about 25 acres of land, which effectively was a rodeo grounds."

The university has been making use of a rodeo arena provided at the Stark County Fairgrounds south of town, but they had previously had their own grounds on their own property, which was in proximity to the department of agriculture building, allowing animals to be brought from the indoor structure there to the rodeo grounds without a lot of exposure.

"We removed the DSU rodeo grounds for the impending coming of the library. I'm extremely grateful to the county ... who built rodeo grounds south of town and that allowed for DSU to not have to drop competitions but it's still removed from the campus. We would not have taken down our own facilities had we known the library was not going to be built in Dickinson," DSU President Thomas Mitzel said in a phone interview. "I'm asking that that structure be rebuilt and for the (Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library) Foundation to do that for us."

Neither Mitzel nor Hacker felt DSU should foot the bill for restoring the former rodeo grounds back to their original condition, a project with a cost that Hacker estimated to be around $100,000. This includes the transport of the logs that are to be used for the authentic recreation of Theodore Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch cabin, which have remained at the site for some time.

Those logs, in keeping with the historical authenticity of the proposed cabin recreation, had been debarked by hand, with no modern tools used. The bark and shavings still remain, and the foundation has not maintained the lawn since spring, leaving the grass high.

"Somebody has to remove that, somebody has to mow (the grass) the signs have to be removed, they are not small signs," Mitzel said. "The trees themselves will have to be moved from that site—those are large logs and they cannot remain at that site."

The former rodeo grounds were an asset to DSU, but Mitzel said that the community at large felt the loss.

"It's not just DSU, it's the people who came to that rodeo who used those facilities, some were high school students, some were college students. That really was a community area," Mitzel said. "The annual carnival has always been on those grounds, the fireworks that have been shot for the City of Dickinson have always been on the rodeo grounds ... When I look at that plot, I don't think of 'what do we need to do (for DSU)' but 'what do we need for this plot of land to be of benefit of the city?'"

Hacker said DSU remains committed to its digitization effort, and the digital library, an archive of Theodore Roosevelt's prolific writings, letters and related correspondances, will continue to be assembled at DSU.

"We just want to be able to say 'this is the bag we're left holding,'" Hacker said. "At the same time, DSU is very committed to the efforts of imaging the old records for the library."

Hacker said that the board is looking into terminating the lease on that land, which is only $1 per year, but it has terms and conditions they need to consider.

Mitzel said he's working with the Attorney General to see that this is done.

"We would just like to have that reconstruction exactly where it was," he said. "The state board authorized the Attorney General to work with myself to put forward what we need on those grounds and I am working very closely with the Attorney General ... I have given that person all that information. I have not spoken to the foundation."

Plans to place the library on the former rodeo grounds had been in place since 2016. The foundation changed that plan twice this year, first voting unanimously to split the Presidential Library between Dickinson and Medora and then voting 9-2 to have the project located entirely in Medora.

A spokesperson for the foundation said they had no comment at this time.

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