Posted 6/28/16 (Tue)
By Jack Dura
Farmer Staff Writer
If Don Artz had never been a mechanic, he and his wife Rosemary might not have made it to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
The Ohio couple have been cruising the country for three weeks in their 1984 Winnebago Chieftain but had to repair or replace its alternator, battery and hot water tank and tighten an exhaust leak in a pipe.
“With us, it’s never a trip,” Don said last Thursday evening. “It’s an adventure.”
After hiking and enjoying the weather in the North Unit last week, the two planned to visit Kroll’s Diner in Minot and a Grand Forks farmers market before continuing on a northern path back to Ohio.
The Artzes have stayed at both units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park now, and though their future travel plans likely won’t bring them back to North Dakota, the private, quiet campsites and gorgeous weather were worth the stop on their backroads trip across America.
“We really see the country,” Rosemary said.
“We would travel places where we’d go 45 minutes without seeing another car,” Don said. “That’s the way to do it. Look at the little places, go to little towns.”
Three campsites over from the Artzes, Drake and Helen Bozarth, originally of Seattle, were settled in for a nap as a cool breeze filtered in through their RV’s open windows.
The two have made the RV their home since 2009 as they visit all 411 National Park Service sites. As of Thursday, they had visited 342.
The Bozarths saw the Knife River Indian Villages and the South Unit before pulling into the North Unit Thursday afternoon, June 23.
“Wherever we park, that’s where we live,” Drake said with a laugh. “We’re going to do a five-mile hike and do the drive.”
The pair planned to stay two nights and continue on to Fort Union Trading Post before charting a path into Montana.
Comparing Theodore Roosevelt to the other national parks is tough, Drake said.
“We just came from Grand Canyon, Zion, Yellowstone, the greatest parks in the world,” he said. “This is nice. I can understand why it’s a park.
“They’re all interesting and different. It’s probably not something we’d come all the way to North Dakota to see.”
Drake added he liked the badlands’ layers and hoped a herd of bison would wander back into the campground as they did that morning.
Julie Hall and Sarah Lane saw the bison amble into the Juniper Campground.
“A big herd of bison came through the campground for several hours, kind of an unusual event,” Hall said. “We happened to be here on a lucky day, so that was cool.”
The couple were visiting the North Unit with their daughter, a “joyous” stayover, Hall said, before the family goes down to the South Unit.
“We’re loving it. Totally relaxing and beautiful,” Hall said, adding they spent the day hiking before asking with a laugh where a Coke machine might be.
The campers’ experiences and travels are all part of the popularity Theodore Roosevelt National Park has gained in recent times. The New York Times listed the park as No. 5 on its list of “52 Places to Go in 2016.” A quarter design will soon feature the park, and a postage stamp released June 2 also honored the park.
Park visitation has increased 35 percent, park superintendent Wendy Ross said.
“Last year we had just over 588,000 people, so if you do the math, we’re talking about 175,000 extra this year,” Ross said. “We have just been slammed.”
The park has received a rush of attention this year from a variety of sources. The National Park Service turned 100, and coupled with the New York Times’ listing of the park, the park is out there as “an undiscovered gem,” Ross said.
“That I think catapulted us into the international spotlight for visitation,” Ross said of the Times’ listing.
The Artzes are proof enough; they said they made their visit because of the park service centennial and the advantages of a senior park pass.
“We’ve used that and saved a lot of money,” Don said.
“Since it’s the national parks’ 100th year, we figure we’ll see more national parks,” Rosemary added.
Ross said the Times’ listing is not necessarily a ranking of places to go in the world this year, but some people seem to view it that way.
Activities in the park offer much to do this summer, though some are still a work in progress in scheduling, Ross added.
For the North Unit, plenty of regular summer programming is scheduled. The Fourth of July will see a parade in Medora while a teddy bear picnic and ranger sing-a-long will take place July 10 in the North Unit, along with lunch and a visit from Smokey Bear. The program is part of a national effort to acquaint the nation’s children with America’s national parks.
Summer programming is a bit up in the air, Ross said, as park officials keep up with visitors.
“Because we’ve been slammed with visitation in the park, we pretty much have all hands on deck just dealing with visitor amenities and services,” she said.
A founder’s day event is set for Aug. 26, when a quarter release will take place at Painted Canyon and likely the North Unit, Ross said.
“There are a lot of numismatists who are interested in that release,” she added.
In addition to a stamp release, Ross said she is “a little surprised by all this,” but knows the park has a lot to offer in its activities, scenery and wildlife.
The latter are a special delight, Ross said, especially bison and the morning last week when they wandered into the campground.
“There are bison everywhere,” she said. “They’re the species to watch this year.”