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Rebuild, rebound, and be better than ever!

By Staff | Jul 31, 2012

What a difference a year can make. A Rugby resident knows that all too well.

It was just over one year ago in June that the Souris River in Minot overflowed its banks causing a flood of major proportions.

Becky Dewitz worked as education coordinator from the spring of 2006 until July 2011 at the Roosevelt Zoo in Minot.

“The job I had at the zoo was one of the most exciting and demanding positions I have ever had and I enjoyed every minute of it,” said Becky. “The staff there are some of the most hardworking people I have ever had the privilege to work with.”

Volunteers were remarkable as well. They came from the Dakota Zoo in Bismarck as well as local volunteers and people from all over.

“We got called for the first evacuation on the Tuesday after Memorial Day,” said Dewitz. “We worked around the clock that day. In one day, we moved approximately 75% of the animals.”

Some of the smaller animals which are easier to care for went to live in a warehouse provided by Ward County. The volunteers created portable pens, feeding areas and cleaning areas and whatever else the animals needed to feel comfortable. When the weather got nicer the animals were allowed outside in portable pens.

Other animals such as two lions, two Bengal tigers and two Amur tigers, two Amur leopards and two snow leopards were all removed without any use of chemicals. Some of the animals had been taught to be led into and out of cages long before the flood came.

“We were able to move most of the 225 animals without the use of chemicals,” stated Dewitz. “The only animals we had to use chemicals on were the bears.”

“Animals can become stressed and die under those circumstances and we didn’t lose any,” beams Dewitz, who clearly loves animals.

The most difficult animals to evacuate are the giraffes, according to Dewitz. The zoo had a family of mom, dad, and baby which were moved to Tanganika Wildlife Park in Kansas. They may not come back to the Minot zoo.

“We have to look at the animals and their individual needs, age, health and then determine what is best for each one,” said Dewitz

Dewitz no longer has a paid position at the zoo which won’t realistically be open until the spring of 2013. However, she is a member and the treasurer for The Greater Minot Zoological Society (GMZS). The GMZS is a 501c non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the Minot zoo. She volunteers and serves on the development committee for the organization.

Although the water from the flood was 8′-12′ deep at the zoo and stayed that way for three weeks and affected 27 buildings, the zoo has started back on the road to recovery with a brand new Visitors Center which includes an auditorium for education and a gift shop. Fencing around the zoo has been completed in the last week. Each step they take towards recovery is a step closer to when they can open. The optimists in the group are hoping for a fall of 2012 opening, however, the spring of 2013 is more likely.

“We will rebuild, we will rebound and be better than ever,” said Dewitz.

She attributes some of her optimism to the spirit of the people in this area.

“We sold zoo memberships this year even though the people were told they would most likely not be able to use them,” said Dewitz.

The GMZS has a partnership with the Minot Park District that was formed after the 1969 flood and has enabled them to receive tax dollars for the zoo. Otherwise, they depend on memberships, donations, and fundraising events.

Just a year later, the Dewitz family lives in Rugby.

“We were fortunate, we had a home to go to,” said Dewitz.

The Dewitz family was living in Velva at the time of the flood as Becky’s husband, Neal, was working at a wind farm near Velva. He was hired by Iberdrola to manage the wind project in Rugby so the couple had just sold their house in Velva and purchased a house in Rugby when the Souris River overflowed its banks.

But first, the family which included a baby daugher, Drew, who is now 1 1/2, had to evacuate their home in Velva, get the animals from the zoo re-located and move to Rugby. It was a busy summer for this young family who had moved to northwest North Dakota from South Dakota in 2005.

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