Controversy over Teddy Roosevelt library project in North Dakota

The controversy isn’t over the subject matter, but the project’s location and cost.

Although his face appears on Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota, America’s 26th President is more closely associated with North Dakota, from his ranching days in the 1880s near the then-boomtown of Medora. He famously served as a deputy sheriff for Billings County, in the then-Dakota Territory.

Medora is located in western North Dakota near the South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The town sits about 40 miles west of Dickinson on I-94. Dickenson, with a population of 25,000, is home to the Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport, offering daily flights to Denver.

The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library project has been in development since at least 2014. Last year, the nonprofit developing the project acquired 90 acres from the National Park Service at a cost of $81,000.

The nonprofit’s board of directors includes several direct descendants of Roosevelt, including Theodore Roosevelt V, and it is headed up by CEO Edward O’Keefe. The project aims to have the Library facility up and running by July 4, 2026.

Medora, the county seat of Billings, has a population of less than 150. The total population of the entire county is less than 1,000. The library site sits on Chateau Road and enjoys only a single point of access. Locals are concerned about the traffic and the adequacy of area infrastructure and have no capacity themselves to support expansion.

Traffic for the national park, an annual music festival and the library threaten to overwhelm the tiny western-movie-set town.

Building a second access point to the library site and the nearby music amphitheater are under consideration.

The cost of the build out will fall on either the TRPL project or the state government.

Oil tycoon Harold Hamm has donated $50 million of the more $155 million privately raised so far by the project. The private fundraising efforts have unlocked an additional $50 million in matching funds from the state government. The project’s current goal is to raise $300 million. It’s unclear whether the state will have to backstop any fundraising shortfall.

The proposed 93,000-square foot library building, featuring a grass-covered roof, is to be built into a bluff overlooking the adjacent national park. A rendering of the library appears on the project’s website,

Source: Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library

The most recent tax return on file (2020) for the nonprofit shows that the CEO O’Keefe is paid $608,000 per year to run the organization. A New York-based architectural design firm was paid nearly $1 million that year.

A lot of challenges lay ahead for the project, but Roosevelt was a can-do man. This project will require a significant investment in local infrastructure, and we will be watching who pays for it.