Good things happening in the Badlands

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Wildfires burned tens of thousands of acres across western North Dakota this past spring, with some still burning.

“We are still seeing some of the coal fires that were started by those fires in the park, and we’re still managing those fires, they burn for a really long time. We have one in the South Unit that is actually fenced off, and we are actively managing– we are seeing active fire in that area,” said Wendy Ross, TRNP superintendent.

Other areas such as Medora were evacuated.

“It actually burned in through the walking path here and so we have some retaining walls and different things we’re going to have to do work on,” said Kaelee Knoell, Medora Musical marketing manager.
This coming after a year where capacity restrictions were tight in businesses across the country.

“In 2020, we were down about 22%. I will say that is probably partly due to the park being closed for almost a month during the spring,” said Ross.

It even closed down a popular spot for mountain bikers and hikers.

“After the wildfires this spring, there were about 14 posts on the Maah Dah Hey trail near Medora that were actually burned down. About 1.5 miles of trail was affected by the fire, actually burned,” said Nick Ybarra, with Save the Maah Daah Hey.

The Maah Dah Hey trail has since been reconstructed and ready for summer events such as the big pull, starting in July.

“July 31st is the Maah Dah Hey trail run, and we are going to have a record number of participants for that race this year. We have over 500 people registered to come run the Maah Dah Hey on that weekend,” said Ybarra.

It’s not just reconstruction. Down here in Medora, new trails are also being built.

A 1.5-mile loop, including a 120-foot ladder to the top of a butte overlooking the city, was constructed last fall into this spring.

“We’re adding on three miles to that existing trail, and these trails will be open to hikers and mountain bikers alike,” said Ybarra.

Other attractions are on the upswing as well.

Last year, the Medora Musical was capped at 40 percent, but this year, business is booming.

“We’re seeing a major jump in attendance obviously by being able to have all of our seats open and bookable,” said Knoell.

Much needed rainfall helped green-up areas that were charred just a few months back.

“People are really interested to see the burned areas, they’re very interested to see the animals that are inhabiting the burned areas because that new forage is so nutritious and it’s green and it looks really nice out there,” said Ross.

One could say it’s nature’s way of healing itself.

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