Mapping North Dakota Man Camps

The state of North Dakota has just completed a survey of workforce housing in the western half of the state and made it publicly available. The rapidly expending workforce needs of the Bakken Oil Patch and the resulting housing crisis spurred this work which marks an important step in the state’s efforts to understand the human impact in the western part of the state. The new data released by the state identified almost 600 locations of workforce housing with over 26,000 beds. 

As readers of this blog know, I’ve been working with a team of historians, social workers, archaeologists, architectural historians, and artists in the western part of the state.  This background data is really important for our work because we had only the vaguest ideas how much workforce housing existed in the western part of the state, and this hampered our ability to understand whether the very fine grain data that we collected in August was a representative of the overall trends in the region. 

The camps cluster on major roads through the area and around the towns of Tioga, Williston, and Watford City as well as the towns of Ray, Alexander, Ross, and Stanley. The incorporated town of Trenton, west of Williston on the Missouri River also seems to be a small center of camps.


The state created a typology for camps based, presumably, on zoning. Their “Crew Camp” category conform to our Type 1 camps and included the massive camps run by Target Logistics and other contractors. Our Type 2 camps appear as their “Mobile Home” and “RV Park/Campground”. It’s interesting to see that Watford City has a bunch of RV Parks whereas Williston has more Mobile Homes. I’m assuming that this reflects the more provisional status of the workforce housing in Watford City where people live in RVs rather than what we might traditionally call trailer parks. 


Crew Camps were by far the largest concentrations of beds averaging over 120 occupants per site whereas RV Parks and Mobile Homes tend to average closer to 20 or 30 residents. The area north of the Missouri particularly around Williston and extending west toward the Montana border.


Our experiences in the western part of the state suggest that the data collected by the state (and their contractor) is decent, but not great. Our Type 3 camps, which were the most provisional and contingent, do not appear on their maps, and this is to be expected. These maps also miss some known Type 1 and Type 2 camps suggesting that there are holes in their dataset.  On our trip out west this month, we hope to ground truth more of this data and determine its utility as a baseline for understanding the larger significance of our data.

One Comment

  1. How did you get the Max Occupancy .jpg? I am interested in getting this and the source data behind it.


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