Access to highest point worries climbing group
By JAMES MacPHERSON, Associated Press Writer
Access to North Dakota's highest peak is up in the air after the death of its owner.
Angeline Van Daele, who owned White Butte for 45 years, died in October. Her husband, Joe, moved from Amidon, in southwestern North Dakota, to a veterans home in Sturgis, S.D., last week because of health problems.
"I won't be coming back," Van Daele said Wednesday.
Van Daele said the butte, which measures 3,506 feet above sea level, was getting regular visitors until he moved to the veterans home. Angeline used to charge $20 a carload for climbers.
White Butte rises only 400 feet from its base, and it takes about an hour to reach the summit.
"It was quite a tourist deal," Van Daele said. "But I don't know what's going to happen to it now."
Van Daele said his wife's three grown children from a previous marriage own the land, which consists of the butte and 310 acres of farm and ranch land.
Angeline's first husband, Lawrence Buzalsky, bought the land more than 60 years ago. He was killed in a tractor accident.
Rita Odom, of Tallahassee, Fla., Angeline's daughter, said she and her two brothers have not decided what they will do with the butte or the surrounding land.
She said the land is still in probate court, which handles wills and estates.
"Until a decision is made, I can't say," Odom said.
The uncertainly over access to the topmost point in North Dakota troubles the 2,700 members of the Highpointers Club, said Don Holmes, the group's president. The club's members have a goal of reaching the tallest points in all 50 states.
"The hot topic on the Highpointers' agenda is maintaining access," said Holmes, of Castle Rock, Colo. "We are concerned about White Butte."
"We would like some entity or individual to make an agreement so we can legally go up there," said Holmes, one of about 110 people who have climbed the highest peak in each state.
"You don't get it done with just 49," he said.
He said his group recently voted to spend money on a memorial for Angeline Van Daele or for improvements to the trail to the top of the butte.
"We'd like to do something," Holmes said. "We're willing to pay for access, as long as they don't close it."
Holmes said only five of the nation's high peaks are privately owned.
A few privately owned peaks have been sold or given to state governments, he said. One, the Black Mesa Nature Preserve in Oklahoma, was purchased by the Nature Conservancy, he said.
Doug Prchal, director of the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department, said it is unlikely that White Butte would ever become a state park, especially if it would have to be purchased.
"The priority to acquire that tract of land is not on the radar," Prchal said. "Right now we're struggling to maintain what we have ... we have a laundry list of needs in our existing parks, and they would come first."
Holmes said other states promote their high peaks, even if they are little more than "bumps." Arkansas' high point at Magazine Mountain, for example, is highly touted by the state's tourism department, he said. Magazine Mountain is about 800 feet shorter than White Butte.
"They promote it as a destination because it is a destination that people will come to," Holmes said.
L.K. Lorge, one of about 16 people in Amidon, owns a business that includes a motel, bar, restaurant and a single gas pump. The butte has been good for business, he said.
"We get a lot of those highpointers. Of course it helps us some," Lorge said. "It's about the only draw around here."