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Wind Canyon Medora North DakotaWind Canyon, Medora, N.D.

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by Maxine Herr

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Dubbed “The Greatest Show in the West,” the Medora Musical takes the stage starting June 3, but visitors to Medora may find they need to extend their stay or make a return trip to experience all the attractions the town has to offer.

“We have a lot new this year,” said Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation Marketing Director Justin Fisk. “We’re trying to make it better and better for the people of North Dakota.”

While the Medora Musical provides a fresh take on its high-energy, western-style show every year, it will be led by a new host, Chet Wollan, this summer. Wollan, who hails from St. Anthony, MN., returns for his 10th season with the Medora Musical alongside the famed Wild West Prestidigitator Bill Sorensen.

“I’ve been a Burning Hills singer for a long time, and been involved in the show longer than that with my family,” Wollan said. “It’s a new challenge to see how we can tell a great story even better.”

Tourists will be able to see former host Emily Walter in a different light as she presents a new addition to the Medora entertainment experience through the Medora Gospel Brunch, scheduled for Saturdays and Sundays starting June 18 at the Chuckwagon Buffet. Following brunch, several Burning Hills singers will share family-friendly gospel music from the Chuckwagon’s newly built stage.

“It’s going to be high energy and they will come right out into the crowd,” Fisk explained. “So, you’ll have time to eat and then the show is going to start and the show is going to be all around you.”

New shows highlight exceptional talent
Historic Medora welcomes two new shows to its Old Town Hall in downtown Medora. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the national park system, Joe Wiegand will reprise his portrayal of the 26th president with a Theodore Roosevelt salute to Medora starting July 12. The presidential impersonator will tell of his time in the Badlands and the significance of his contributions to the National Park Service.

Former Burning Hills singer Jared Mason returns with an afternoon show Tuesday through Sunday starting June 10. “Jared Mason Live” highlights the talent of a young man who went on to become a Broadway musical star, charming audiences in his role as Jerry Lee Lewis in the Tony award-winning “Million Dollar Quartet.” He earned the moniker “Yodel Boy” as a Burning Hills singer since he could showcase incredible uniqueness with his voice.

“It kind of gives you goosebumps,” Fisk said. “It’s New York City, Broadway talent doing a one-person concert every day.”

During the 100-day run of the Medora Musical, singers are given one night off per month, so the Foundation has scheduled some unique shows to take the stage on those nights. One of those will be a full concert by the Bismarck Mandan Symphony Orchestra Aug. 22. Musicians and instruments will spread across the stage of the Burning Hills Amphitheatre to perform selections specifically tailored for Medora.

Making upgrades to Medora
Returning visitors to Medora will also notice a few upgrades to establishments around town, but it may start with the nose instead of the eyes. Besides its expansion of a new stage, the Chuckwagon Buffet will entice tourists with the smell of smoked meat and barbecue wafting through downtown as it now offers a barbecue pit option for dinner guests.

Also, the nostalgic Badlands Motel boasts full renovations and updates to its rooms this year.

“There are brand new furnishings, flat-screen TVs, new bathrooms, mini fridges – things that make your travel to Medora enjoyable,” Fisk said.

The Historic Preservation Committee keeps an ongoing list of facilities in Medora that keep history alive and this year, it was on board for renovations to the Joe Ferris General Store. The biggest change is the replacement of the dark exterior with bright white siding – just like it used to be when Joe Ferris owned the place.

“The offerings will be similar with maybe some new items, but it will be bright white and a cool thing to see and think about how that would have looked in 1883 when Teddy Roosevelt was in town,” Fisk said. In honor of the 100th anniversary of the park system, a new national park-themed shop is also open near the Cowboy Hall of Fame.

But the biggest construction project recently completed in town is one that fulfills a dream for the recently deceased Sheila Schafer, wife of founder Harold Schafer. But it isn’t for guests. The Bill and Jane Marcil Life Skills Center is a student union-type building to allow the 350 seasonal employees to continue their summer studies, utilize an exercise room, grab a meal and gain life skills training. The $7 million project also includes a full-size replica of the Burning Hills Amphitheatre stage to allow the singers to be able to rehearse regardless of weather.

“Sheila would always tell the staff that they need to get out and experience Medora, and always keep learning,” Fisk said. “So part of the Life Skills Center will do that same thing even though Sheila’s not here to do it herself. It’s our duty to carry on Harold and Sheila’s vision and what they dreamed Medora could be like.”

What to do in Medora
While Medora is adding to its charm, return visitors can still enjoy all the attractions that have made the western setting so appealing.

• Pitchfork steak fondue

• Theodore’s Dining Room

• Gift shops

• Medora Children’s Park

• Bully Pulpit golf course

• Riding stables and trail rides

• Big Buffalo Slide, Family Fun Center

• N.D. Cowboy Hall of Fame

• Maah Daah Hey Trail bike adventures

“Hang around and enjoy time together without worrying about smartphones or traffic,” Fisk says. “Slow it down a little. That’s what we do in Medora.”

Maxine Herr is a freelance writer from Bismarck.