WATFORD CITY, N.D. – The visitor center of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit will close this month after unprecedented rainfall caused the Badlands soil under the building to shift.
Park Superintendent Valerie Naylor said unstable bentonite clay in the area absorbs a lot of water, which is causing the center’s interior walls to crack and the floor to buckle. The 22-year-old building was repaired in 2002, but it shifted again in 2011.
“It’s not believed that we can stabilize it adequately this time,” Naylor said.
The building will close mid-month and by July 17 the center’s exhibits, book sales and visitor information will move to a cottage at Juniper Campground. Rangers will continue to greet visitors at the park entrance, about 14 miles south of Watford City.
“We’re really sad that we have to abandon our North Unit visitor center because it is a beautiful building and it’s served us very well,” Naylor said.
Average annual precipitation for the North Unit is typically 14.5 inches, Naylor said. But the park saw between 21 and nearly 25 inches of annual precipitation from 2009 through 2011, she said.
Last year was dry, but this year the park has already received more than 17 inches of precipitation.
A National Park Service architect and independent structural engineering firm evaluated the building in late May. Although the building poses no immediate hazard, extreme weather could cause it to shift further. The 4,344-square-foot building also has basement offices for park staff.
The park will work to secure a temporary visitor center while a new building can be planned and built in a more stable location.
The North Unit gets about 130,000 visitors per year, with about 20,000 who access the visitor center, Naylor said.
“We’re trying very hard not to inconvenience visitors very much,” she said.