Build it and They will Come
“The village of Van Hook, North Dakota may have no claim to greatness, but it can claim the unusual distinction of knowing its beginning and end,” stated the Mountrail County Historical Society. Though Van Hook is no longer an official city of North Dakota, one might also say that it is one of few towns to be reborn again–at least in spirit.
On this day in 1976, the Traynor Park, located on the former Van Hook townsite, was dedicated in the name of its primary creator, Frank Traynor. As the story goes, Traynor awoke one morning and told his children that he had had a dream and he was going to build a park at Van Hook. Traynor was determined, but problems did stand in Traynor’s way. The land where he wanted to build his park now belonged to the Army Corps of Engineers as a result of the construction of the Garrison Dam.
Prior to the construction of the dam, the small town of Van Hook, then a lively little town, knew that it was scheduled to be partially flooded when the reservoir waters filled to the maximum level. Though a majority of its businesses would be untouched by the water, the flooding would leave Van Hook on a small peninsula, and most of the farmlands south of the town would be lost. Rather than stay put and watch the town die a slow death without that farmland economy, the residents of Van Hook decided to join Sanish at the new townsite of New Town. Thus, Van Hook was abandoned. By the time Traynor had his dream, the old Van Hook townsite was overgrown with grass and weeds.
After the Van Hook area was sold to the Corps in the 1950s, it was turned into a wildlife refuge. In order to get this land back and develop the park as he wanted, Traynor needed to get the land returned to the public. In April of 1962, Traynor helped establish the Mountrail County Park Board and was one of its original members. Traynor submitted a proposal to have the land deeded from the Corps to the Park Board. The bill was supported by Senator Milton Young and Senator Quentin Burdick, and was passed by Congress. The bill was finally signed by President Nixon in 1974.
Traynor worked hard to develop the old townsite into what it is today. Traynor Park, more commonly known as Van Hook Park today is now a thriving summer resort for both North Dakota residents and non-residents. Summer cabins line small gravel streets where Van Hook businesses and homes once stood. A bait shop and convenience store is run by Clarence and Rosaline Weltz and a fishing guide service is offered and operates out of the park.
Now, as what used to be an abandoned townsite continues to grow into a bustling center of summer recreation, we celebrate Traynor Park’s thirtieth anniversary and the realization of Frank Traynor’s dream. It all culminated on this day in 1976.
by Tessa Sandstrom
Source: Mountrail County Historical Society. Tales of Mighty Mountrail. Mountrail County: Mountrail County Historical Society, 1986: 80.