The Enchanted Highway
With the start of summer today, the vacation season begins in earnest, a season the state tourism board has aptly encapsulated in one word – Legendary. North Dakota’s tourism motto unites the state’s modern vacation offerings with the figures of the state’s storied past; like Lewis and Clark, Sitting Bull and Theodore Roosevelt.
Yet not all of North Dakota’s vacation sites have connections to the legends of the past. Some tourist destinations are creating their own legends. Towering as a unique example is the Enchanted Highway. Rising out of the prairie at Exit 72 along Interstate 94, it extends thirty-two miles south to the small farming community of Regent, North Dakota.
The Enchanted Highway is the brainchild of Gary Greff, a former teacher from Regent. Alarmed at Regent’s dwindling population, Greff searched for a way to attract business and tourists to the community and keep the town from falling off the map. Yet Regent had no connection to the luminaries of the past. So, Greff knew he would have to create something spectacular to attract the tourists. The vision of that something came one day as Greff watched a handful of visitors pull up alongside a farmer’s hay-bale folk-art to snap some pictures. He thought, “If people will drive off the road for that, how many more would come for something grander?”
With the assistance of local farmers, Greff began work on his first sculpture, ‘the Tin Family,’ in 1991. The forty-foot figures were made from pieces of scrap metal welded together with the help of volunteers. Greff then went on to construct more roadside art, positioning his monumental sculptures along the highway to Regent.
Even after twenty years of labor, Greff’s work is not complete; additional monuments are in the works. But sculpture is not the extent of his imagination. Getting tourists into Regent is only half the battle. They must also have a reason to stay and spend money. So Greff has plans for a dinner theater, art school and water park in the hopes that with enough investment, Regent, North Dakota will become one of the state’s premier tourist destinations. With over 20,000 visitors in 2007 and 2008 alone, Greff’s dream would seem to have potential. Who knows, the Enchanted Highway may yet give birth to another North Dakota legend.
Dakota Datebook written by Lane Sunwall
Greff, Gary. "Enchantedhighway.net." http://www.enchantedhighway.net/ (Accessed June 16, 2011).
North Dakota Board of Tourism. "North Dakota Tourism Portal." http://www.ndtourism.com/ (Accessed June 16, 2011).
Vossler, Bill. "North Dakota's Enchanted Highway." Saturday Evening Post, December 17, 2008.