“I’ve lived here my whole live and never seen North Dakota like this. Things that would never have been proposed ten years ago – creative ideas – are being discussed and embraced. The upside of the boom is visible everywhere.”
Beth Campbell speaks from a position close to the center of power. She married to a man who grew up within blocks of the State Capital in Bismarck. Beth began volunteering at the Heritage Center, adjacent to the capital, in 1991. She joined the staff in 1999 and was instrumental in overseeing the major addition that opened last spring.
“The downside is, are we caring for the land the way we need to for the next generation? It’s the question we all ask. But the freight train is out of control, so we just hang on.”
Beth explains that Visitor Services is an updated term for volunteer services. “What volunteers want to do is changing. Baby boomers do not want to sit at our information desk once a week. They want something project based that brings results. Many people want to volunteer but have specific requirements that make it hard to find the right spot. We have volunteers in archives, in anthropology, in every aspect of the center.”
I asked Beth how the Heritage Center determined whether a position is a volunteer one or a paid one? “We like to have the information desk staffed by volunteers. The reality is that we can’t get volunteers to do that on weekends, so we have paid staff then. But the community sees the information desk as a volunteer position, which is good. The volunteers are our ambassadors to the community.”
Beth gave me a tour of the Heritage Center. She explained that the expansion was in the works before the energy boom, but the increased revenue from oil and gas made it come together much faster than anyone anticipated. “Visitation has more than doubled. We’ve had over 200,000 visitors in the first twelve months since opening; we used to average 100,000. This month we have over fifty events planned here. Most people who attend have a North Dakota connection. They are from here, Minnesota or the West coast; many North Dakotans have moved to Washington, Oregon and California. They come home and they visit here.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“I don’t know how much different tomorrow will be from today. I hope it is more calm and contemplative. I am in a good position; I have a good job, home, a spouse I like, good health, and healthy friends. I worry about what we’re leaving behind, but those are good worries. I want us to be kinder to the earth, kinder to people.”