I’m a 24-year-old who lives in Medora, North Dakota.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Madi Lee, 24, about her experience living and working in Medora, North Dakota — a summer tourist town with a year-round population of fewer than 150 people. Lee said the remoteness of Medora could be challenging at times, especially during the winter, but she loves the tight-knit community and nearby nature.

Medora, North Dakota, has always been one of my favorite places. As a kid, I visited a few times on family trips and had such a good time. It’s a unique place in the North Dakota Badlands at the entrance of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It’s a historic little town with a lot of Teddy Roosevelt history.

When I was in college at the University of Minnesota Duluth, I spent my summers working for the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation as a seasonal employee. After graduating in spring 2022, I went back to Medora for the summer and started inquiring about full-time positions

The year-round population of Medora is between 100 and 150 people. It’s really small. But in the summer, the town explodes. We have thousands and thousands of people come through Medora to get to the national park.

Our main business is tourism and hospitality. The town has a main attraction called the “Medora Musical,” which happens every night during the summer and has been going on since 1965. It’s a good ol’ American West-type show in an outdoor amphitheater built into the natural landscape, like a smaller version of Colorado’s Red Rocks. I work as a ticketing and reservations manager for the foundation.

We have the best combination of natural beauty, history, and great people. Those three things make Medora a really special place.

There can be challenges during the winter

We don’t have a grocery store in town; we just have a small gas station. It has the basics, but I have to drive 35 minutes to Dickinson, the closest large town, every time I need groceries. That can be challenging in the winter given the weather. You have to be prepared if they close the interstate because of snow.

A year ago, we had an intense, snowy winter. We were snowed in for a good portion of the season. The climate of Medora is nothing new to me, having come from northern Minnesota, but what was new to me was being cut off from getting groceries or filling up my gas tank.

We depend on each other in those times and help out one another. The fact that it’s such a small town means it’s a very tight-knit community.

The housing situation in Medora is another challenging aspect. There’s pretty much no housing in town outside what my company owns. When I became a full-time employee, there wasn’t any housing available, so I ended up living in a dorm for a short period. Then, I moved into a small apartment that didn’t have a full kitchen, so I had to depend on a hot plate and sink, which was challenging during that first winter.

Thankfully, my company built a nice, new apartment building, which opened in June, and I was able to move into that.

I pay $850 a month for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment. Since it’s owned by the foundation, we don’t have to pay for utilities other than WiFi.

A lot of my coworkers live in the same building, which I think is a positive thing because it’s a really supportive community. Our employee base is very young. Quite a few of us are around the same age, which is a plus. It almost feels like a college setting.

We have to get creative during the winters

There are only two restaurants in Medora that are open year-round. There’s not a whole lot to do in the winter other than outdoor activities, so having a few good friends around my age really helps.

The winter is one of my favorite times to go into the national park because of the lack of tourists. The wildlife seems a lot more active during the winter, too. We often go into the park at nighttime. If the stars are out, it’s an incredible place to stargaze. We’ve even managed to see the northern lights a few times, which are spectacular.

But my favorite part of Medora is the summer. I just love the people. It’s so fun to work in tourism. It’s almost like a small-scale version of Disneyland because everyone who comes through town is having an exciting day of vacation. A lot of people are experiencing the Badlands for the first time, and everyone’s so happy. I love experiencing that with them and being able to help make that happen.

The atmosphere is just the best. I see myself staying in Medora for the foreseeable future.