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PARKS AND RECREATION DEPARTMENT
[Authorized: NDCC Chapter 55-08] 

Prior to 1965, all state parks and historic sites were administered by the State Historical Society of North Dakota. The State Parks Committee and the State Parks Division of the State Historical Society had direct responsibility for managing state parks and historic sites. In 1963 the Governor appointed an outdoor recreation committee with duties that included researching planning, coordinating, and providing publicity in the general field of outdoor recreation [Executive Order 1963-16]. In 1965 legislation created the State Outdoor Recreation Agency with the Governor or his designee acting as chairman. An executive officer was appointed by the Governor to carry out the policies and directives of the newly formed Agency (S. L. 1965, Ch. 379). Other legislation of 1965 required that most historic sites in the state remain under the supervision of the State Historical Society. Legislation also authorized the creation of the North Dakota Park Service [NDCC 55-08-01] to manage state parks (S. L. 1965, Ch. 379).  The Park Service was given responsibility for the administration of all state parks, campgrounds, recreation areas, and reserves. Known originally as the North Dakota Park Service, the agency was administered by a director appointed by the Governor. The State Parks Advisory Council was also created in 1965 (S. L. 1971, Ch. 527).  

Legislation passed in 1975 required the Department to establish a system of natural areas and nature preserves for public use thus promoting protection of natural areas throughout the state. Established nature preserves are the Gunlogson Nature Preserve located in Icelandic State Park in Pembina County, Head of the Mountain Nature Preserve in Sargent County, Sentinel Butte located in Golden Valley County, the Missouri River (east on the Mandan side), and Smokey Lake Natural Area (McHenry County).  Cross Ranch State Park and Nature Preserve in Oliver County are managed by the Nature Conservancy Group and the HR Morgan State Nature Preserve located in Ransom and Richland Counties is managed by the North Dakota State Game and Fish Department. In 1977, the State Outdoor Recreation Agency joined forces with the Park Service to form the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department. The name of the agency was changed to the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department (S. L. 1977, Ch. 503). The director of the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department serves at the discretion of the Governor.   The mission of the Department is to provide and enhance outdoor recreation opportunities through diverse parks and programs that conserve the state’s natural diversity.            

In 1985 the Legislative Assembly created the Community Assistance Program (CAP) to help rural communities develop recreation leadership and facilities. The Department provides leadership and coordination for establishing and maintaining a system of state and federal multiuse recreation trails across North Dakota. Upon request, the Department provides technical outdoor recreation assistance to any state or local agency. The Department has responsibility for following functions:

  • The off-highway vehicle planning and safety program set up for the use of OHV (off-highway vehicles) in North Dakota. Vehicles include off-road motorcycles to ATVs and larger utility vehicles. OHVs that ride on public lands including trails, roads, and ditches are required to be registered. The North Dakota State Parks and Recreation website shows trail location, laws and registration, information about safety classes, and the certification program for youth. Funds collected from all-terrain vehicle registration fees are used to develop trails and safety programs and the law requires those who are between age twelve and sixteen complete the all-terrain vehicle safety course approved by the Department before driving on land other than that of their parent or guardian.
  • With the advice of the North Dakota Snowmobile Trails and Safety Advisory Council, the Department has used a portion of the funds collected from snowmobile registration fees to develop trails and offer safety courses.  North Dakota youth between the ages of twelve and sixteen, must pass the Department's safety course before operating a snowmobile on public land. The snowmobile trail system in North Dakota consists of over 2,800 miles of marked and groomed snowmobile trails. All snowmobiles on the state trail system must be registered or have the proper permit. The Department website map shows where to ride, laws and registration, information for an out-of-state permit, safety classes, and certification for youth through government programs and private agencies.
  • The Governor's Take Pride in America Program is a national partnership that recruits, supports, and recognizes public land volunteers working to maintain the trails. The Take Pride in America program is coordinated by the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department and the North Dakota Tourism Division under the direction of the Governor’s Office.

The Department has also served as the lead agency for a number of different outdoor recreation and park-related programs including: State Outdoor Recreation Interagency Council (SORIC) with a primary purpose to oversee distribution of federal outdoor recreation grants and to encourage cooperation among private and public recreation groups [NDCC 55-08-02.1]. The Parks and Recreation Department coordinates the Little Missouri River Commission for the purpose of preserving the Little Missouri River as nearly as possible in its present state and provides advice to local or other units of government on the river's scenic, historic, and recreational qualities. When necessary, the Commission develops management policy to coordinate all activities within the confines of the Little Missouri River [NDCC 61-29-04].  The North American Regatta Commission was appointed by the Governor to promote sailing on Lake Sakakawea, the Commission hosted the international catamaran and sailboat regatta. Commission members included representatives of the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department, of tourism promotion, and of private interest [Authorized: 1985 Governor's directive]. Leading up to the state centennial the Department provided oversight to the Prairie Rose State Games Board. The Games styled after the Olympics were created in 1986 to promote amateur athletics. The first multi-sports festival was held in Bismarck. The governing committee was appointed by the Governor and made up of representatives from state, local, and private organizations [Authorized: 1986 Governor's directive]. 

In 1991, the State Legislature established the North Dakota Parks and Tourism Department and added a new section to the Century Code relating to the powers and duties of the North Dakota Parks and Tourism Department. They repealed four sections of the Code regarding to the duties of the director of the Parks and Recreation Department and the Advisors to the Parks and Recreation Department (S. L. 1991, Ch. 640). During the legislative session of 1993 the legislature created a new chapter to the Century Code relating to the establishment of a Tourism Department and amended the Century Code relating to the Parks and Tourism Department and the allocation of powers and duties to the Parks and Recreation Department or the Tourism Department. It repealed three sections of the Code relating to the tourism division of the Parks and Recreation Department (S. L. 1993, Ch. 80).

As a state agency the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department has the charge to administer selected parks and recreation areas deemed to have state-wide or regional significance. According to the Century Code the policy of the State Parks and Recreation Department is to plan and coordinate government programs encouraging the full development and preservation of existing and future parks, outdoor recreation areas, and nature preserves [NDCC 55-8-01.1].

The State Recreation Division directs both privately and state owned areas including Shelvers Grove State Recreation Area (east of Devil’s Lake), Black Tiger Bay State Recreation Area (McHenry County), Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park (Morton County), Sully Creek State Recreation Area (Billings County), Doyle Memorial Monument (McIntosh County), Butte Saint Paul (Lake Metigoshe), Crow Flies High (west of New Town), Indian Hills Resort (west of Garrison), Little Metigoshe Recreation Area, Pembina Trails and Gorge, and Pelican Point and Tetrault Woods State (Wahalla).

The State Parks Division manages Beaver Lake State Park (south and east of Napoleon), Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park (Morton County), Fort Ransom State Park (south of Valley City), Fort Stevenson State Park (McLean County), Grahams Island State Park (west of Devils Lake), Icelandic State Park (Pembina County), Lake Metigoshe State Park (Bottineau County), Lake Sakakawea State Park (Pick City Mercer County) , Lewis and Clark State Park (southeast of Williston), Little Missouri State Park (north of Killdeer), and Turtle River (west of Grand Forks).  The director of the State Parks and Recreation Department has the power to appoint department personnel to peace officer status while they are in employment of the Department. These powers are limited only to the lands or waters administered by the Department. Twenty-four Park Rangers are responsible full-time law enforcement officers who have the authority to write tickets and make arrests [NDCC 55-08-04].

Administrative duties are shared for historical state parks by the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department and the State Historical Society of North Dakota [NDCC 55-10-04]. The parks included are Fort Rice, Fort McKeen, Fort Abraham Lincoln, and Slant Indian village (all located in Morton County), Whitestone Hill (Dickey County), Fort Abercrombie (Richland County), and Fort Buford (Williams County).

Additionally the Department is also in a cooperative partnership with the North Dakota Department of Transportation to administer the program of State Scenic Byways and Backways that includes Chan SanSan Scenic Backway (James River), DesLacs National Wildlife Backway, Killdeer Mountain Four Bears Scenic Byways, Old Red/Old Ten Byway (from Mandan to Dickinson), Rendezvous Region Scenic Backway (Vang to Walhalla in Pembina River Gorge), Sakakawea Scenic Byway (Washburn to Stanton), Standing Rock National Native American Scenic Byway (Cannonball River to South Dakota Line), Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit Scenic Byway, and Turtle Mountain Scenic Byway.

CHRONOLOGY

1903       The State Historical Commission established parks for public use and historical interest (S. L. 1903, Ch. 15).

1929       A Board of Park Commissioners was established consisting of five members who were elected by qualified electors of the park district (S. L. 1929, Ch. 180).

1935       The State Historical Society was given the authority to be administrator of state parks and reserves, to acquire and be trustee of land purchased, be an agent of the National Park Service during the development of the projects carried out by the Civilian Conservation Corps. With the consent of the Governor create a State Park Committee of five persons and through the collection of fees establish a State Park Maintenance Fund (S. L. 1935, Ch. 216).

1960       Road side picnic areas were developed by the State Highway Commission adjacent to important highways in the state.

1963       The Governor appointed an Outdoor Recreation Committee with duties that included researching planning, coordinating, and providing publicity in the general field of outdoor recreation [Executive Order 1963-16]. 

1965       Legislation created the State Outdoor Recreation Agency with the Governor or his designee acting as chairman.  An executive officer was appointed by the Governor to carry out the policies and directives of the newly formed agency and legislation also authorized the creation of the North Dakota Park Service to manage state parks. Employees were authorized to act as peace officers (S. L. 1965, Ch. 379). Most historic sites in the state remained under the supervision of the State Historical Society.

1967       Legislation addressed charges and fees at state parks, and established a State Park Fund (S. L. 1967, Ch. 413).

1971       The State Parks Advisory Council [NDCC 55-08-02] was abolished (S. L. 1971, Ch. 527). 

1973       Legislation authorized the State Park Service to lease the Lewis and Clark public use development area and the Fort Stevenson public use development area from the Army Corps of Engineers for twenty-five years (S. L. 1973, Ch. 422).

1975       The State Park Service was charged to implement and hold in trust an adequate system of nature preserves for the people of the state (S. L. 1975, Ch. 501).

1977       The State Outdoor Recreation Agency joined forces with the Park Service to form the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department.  A recreation division was established and the name of the agency was changed to the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department and included a director and deputy director.  Legislation repealed the State Outdoor Recreation Agency [NDCC 53-07] and established the Outdoor Recreation Interagency Council within the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department (S. L. 1977, Ch. 503). 

1983       Legislation added four new sections to the Century Code relating to the enforcement of park and recreation laws including the penalty for violation of the laws (S. L. 1983, Ch. 588).

1986       The Prairie Rose Games Commission was created in 1986 and launched during the summer of 1987 by Governor George Sinner. The games featured a wide variety of sporting events for all ages.  Bismarck-Mandan, Fargo, Grand Forks, and Minot took turns hosting the annual event [Authorized: 1986, Governor’s directive].            

1991       The Legislature established the North Dakota Parks and Tourism Department. Along with the legislation the name was changed to North Dakota Parks and Tourism Department. Added to a new section to the Century Code were to the powers and duties of the new Department. The Advisors to the Parks and Recreation Department was repealed (S. L. 1991, Ch. 640).

1993       The Legislature created a new chapter to the Century Code by establishing a Tourism Department and amended the Code relating to the Parks and Tourism Department and the allocation of powers and duties given to the Parks and Recreation Department or the Tourism Department.  Legislation repealed three sections of the Code relating to the Tourism Division of the Parks and Recreation Department (S. L. 1995, Ch. 80).

2011       Bismarck hosted the last Prairie Rose Games. 

SERIES

30547 Budget Files.
31743 Tourism Division Records.
31782 Environmental Protection Agency Wastewater Files.
32063 Administration Files.
32172 Civilian Conservation Corps History Project.
32264 Promotional Materials.

See Also records under State Historical Society for records 1965 and earlier

SOURCES

Gray, David P.  Guide to the North Dakota State Archives, 1985.
Legislative History of North Dakota State Agencies: Richard J. Wolfert State Librarian. State Library Commission, 1978.
North Dakota Century Code.
North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department Website.
North Dakota Secretary of State Blue Book.
North Dakota State Legislature Session Laws.

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