Last week for Rural Leadership North Dakota we traveled to a town in the state where I have never been: Watford City. I thought it was fascinating to see how a town that had a population of 1500 less than a decade ago, survived being inundated with people so much so that it’s estimated population was over 10,000 for a time.
It boggles my mind how a town managed to retain its identity at all. While the majority of the town’s residents are new to the area, the town’s leadership listened to the community taking cues from the population on how to best serve community members new and old. We had the opportunity to see some of the features of the newly expanded Watford City: city parks, new developments, the beautiful new Roughrider Center, the state’s largest veterinary center, new roads, bypasses, and traffic signals. We saw several “man camps” and even drove by an indoor camp, which is basically a climate-controlled storage shed where people park their RVs and live. This camp comes with an on-site basketball court, park and has enough children living there to fill one school bus daily. Speaking of children, Watford City has been expanding their schools and even have the new Wolf Pup daycare that opened in 2014 that holds 16 classrooms, is licensed for 190 children, and cares for kiddos from birth through school age.
The Bakken sometimes gets a bad wrap when you listen to the “news” outlets, or it sounds like the area has gone bust completely, but I can tell you that I’ve seen first-hand a thriving community. Watford City is the county seat for McKenzie county, which has the most active oil industry in the entire state. They aren’t bust. They aren’t slow. In fact, right now was described as a chance to “catch their breath” before the next big upswing takes effect.
There are new businesses opening, new wells being drilled, and a community holding together and moving forward as they meet the needs of their growing community. If you happen to be in western North Dakota, head over to Watford City. You can hike in Theodore National Park’s north unit, take in a movie, go shopping, hit the coffee shop/post office and buy some art, grab a 6-pack with your daily dose of knowledge at the Historic museum with adjoining liquor store, or grab a bite at one of the many great restaurants! I even heard that the new brewery will be brewing this week!!