N.D. man creates roadside sculpture gallery to attract tourists
In our summer series “American Wonders,” we’re exploring places that make America wonderful, from majestic natural landscapes to spectacular creations.
Along one stretch of road in southwest North Dakota, where lush, green plains roll up to the sky, the unexpected appears over the horizon – soaring scrap metal sculptures nestled on the roadside. It’s what you might call an outdoor folk art gallery, with incredible sculptures and works of art created by just one man.
The movie “Field of Dreams” gave 70-year-old Gary Greff the idea to turn a proverbial road to nowhere into a tourist attraction. Regent, North Dakota, has lost around 40 percent of its population since 1990. So Greff, a self-taught scrap metal sculptor, decided to give travelers something to see, to keep his town on the map.
It’s called the Enchanted Highway.
“This is fabulous,” tourist Sheila Sanders said, “that this guy came up with this idea to save this part of his section in North Dakota. I think this is wonderful.”
Greff said, “I wanted each sculpture, each sight to be a picture, like you’re driving into a picture frame. And when you get into it, you go, ‘Woah, that’s completely different than the other one!'”
Seven works dot this 32-mile stretch of the Enchanted Highway. One, “Geese in Flight,” is (according to Guinness World Records) the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world – 110 feet tall and 154 feet wide.
Greff draws inspiration from local wildlife and historical figures. Driving this road, you’ll see “Pheasants on the Prairie,” “Fisherman’s Dream” and President Theodore Roosevelt on a bucking horse in “Teddy Roosevelt Rides Again.”
Greff began work on his first sculpture, “Tin Family,” in 1989. That was the year the movie “Field of Dreams” came out: “I saw the movie, and I go, ‘OK, if they build it, well, you know, they will come.’ OK. Yeah. Oh, yeah.”
Greff was hoping people would come to his hometown, Regent – a genuine blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of place. Greff wanted tourists to follow the path of the sculptures into Regent.
And about 6,000 cars do each year. He opened a gift shop and turned the former high school into a 19-room medieval-themed hotel, Enchanted Castle.
But not everybody in town has bought into Greff’s vision. “Well, the landowners aren’t being real cooperative right now,” he told “CBS This Morning” contributor Jamie Wax.
To build, Greff needs about an acre of donated property. Anytime he wants to build, he has to find someone willing to donate about an acre of property.
“There’s a couple of them that run me off their place,” he said.
” ‘Cause they see you coming?” Wax asked.
“Yeah. They won’t even – they don’t want a sculpture. ‘Oh, I don’t want a sculpture. Get the heck out.’ One guy threatened [me]: ‘I’ll shoot you if you don’t get off my place.’ I go, ‘OK, I’m outta here!'” Greff laughed.
“The town’s mentality is, they’ve been a farming community for 100 years. Well, that’s great. But you’ve gone from a town of 400 to a town of 100. Now, that tells you something’s gotta change. This is what I came up with to help ’em out. Now, you guys gotta take it and run with it. But I haven’t seen any running yet.”
So, while Greff waits for the people of Regent to come around, he keeps on building, with designs for at least three more sculptures.
He said, “I want these to be a legacy for North Dakota, a legacy for Regent. I don’t care about me. I mean, I wanted people to say, ‘If he can do something like this, gol’ dangit, maybe I can be something.
“You can do whatever you put your mind to it. Just do it!”
For nearly 30 years, Greff used his own money and donations to maintain the sculptures. Earlier this year, the North Dakota Legislature voted to allocate funds to assist Greff in the maintenance of the sculptures along the Enchanted Highway.
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