From the first homestead rush and early railroad days through the oil booms of the 20th century, remote areas of eastern Montana and the Dakotas have experienced repeated cycles of boom and bust.

Newcomers to the MonDak region have always faced hardship. Droves of homesteaders flocked to the area in hopes of a new life, only to flee in the tens of thousands when droughts plagued crop production. Where entire towns were abandoned, only ghost towns remain, echoes of the communities they once were. Yet some homesteaders stayed and made a living among the buttes and patchwork farmland that make this place remarkable.

In decades to follow, oil booms ushered in waves of modernization, building pipelines, growing towns, paving roads, and bringing hospitals and schools.

Now, the Northern Plains are booming again, with more people, development, and cash flow. While it’s a familiar pattern, it’s happening on a grander scale than anything seen before.

Our feature documentary is currently in post-production.

This current boom may last for decades, but no one can predict what the future holds. The High Plains Heritage Project hopes to reach a better understanding of the Northern Plains’ current growth and the long-term effects by exploring the people and history. For better or worse, the area teems with untold stories.

We’re telling these stories through a series of intimate portraits and interviews. Involving members of communities old and new, from families who have farmed the land for generations to newcomers seeking their fortune, this multimedia documentary will chronicle both the economic history of the region and its present evolution, with an eye toward what lies ahead.

 

When Easterners first poured from trains onto this unwelcoming landscape, they had no idea the challenges that awaited them. There is perhaps no better place to experience this history than the McCone County Museum, no better guide than Wendell Pawlowski, its curator.

With an explosion of truck traffic on these once-sleepy state highways, road construction is constant sight. We caught up with Wizard and Little Man, two of the guys hard at work on that construction, during their day off.

All it takes is one lap around the Williston Wal-Mart parking lot to see that opportunities in the Bakken are drawing people from everywhere.

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