Geese in Flight at I-94 exit to the Enchanted Highway.
Geese in Flight at I-94 exit to the Enchanted Highway.

Enchanted Highway

Field review by the editors.

Regent, North Dakota

Thirty-two miles south of the nearest major highway is the town of Regent, North Dakota. It was dying, and Gary Greff decided that someone had to do something about it.

Gary Greff and Geese In Flight (2003).
Gary Greff and Geese In Flight (2003).

Inspired, he later said, by the 1989 movie Field of Dreams, and its misremembered catchphrase "Build it, and they will come," Gary began building giant artworks to entice travelers off of the interstate and into town.

A metal sculptor and retired Regent schoolteacher, Gary's plan was to create ten huge sculptures, paired with pullouts and picnic areas, every few miles along Regency-Gladstone Road -- which he christened The Enchanted Highway. All of the sculptures would face north, toward the oncoming traffic from Interstate 94.

Gary began his first artwork, the giant Tin Family, in 1990. He's been working along the Highway ever since.

Tin Family.
Tin Family.

"I keep welding, every day," he told us, speaking beneath his elaborate Fisherman's Dream sculpture, which he said was in need of some repair (It went up in 2007). Nearly all of the work -- and it goes far beyond simply the design and construction -- is performed by Gary. "I never worry about not having enough to do," he said.

Gary Greff and Teddy Roosevelt.
Gary Greff and Teddy Roosevelt.

Each of the sculptures vary in style -- Gary felt that it would make them more interesting -- but all celebrate some aspect of North Dakota, and all are huge. In 30 years of labor, Gary has erected seven of them. Each is a struggle as Gary scrapes together individual donations of cash and material. It wasn't until 2019 that the state finally gave him some money for maintenance. "But I don't get discouraged easy," Gary said. "I tell myself, however it goes, it never goes quick."

Geese in Flight, up by the freeway exit, is 90 feet high and certified by Guinness as the World's Largest Outdoor Sculpture. Next comes Deer Crossing -- two minimalist deer leaping over an immense fence -- and then Grasshoppers in the Field, one titanic bug and several smaller ones at its feet.

Fisherman's Dream depicts metal trout and bass leaping 70 feet through the suspended surface of a North Dakota lake; Pheasants on the Prairie features a bird family whose parents are over 50 feet long; Teddy Roosevelt Rides Again includes a four-horse stagecoach and a giant Rough Rider Teddy astride a rearing horse, Lone Ranger-style. Last comes Tin Family, and then the final 1.5 miles into town.

Pheasants.
Pheasants.

Over the years a local Boy Scout troop and shop class have helped with some of the signs and picnic tables. Gary thought that local farmers would help as well, because they knew about metal bending and welding. Some of them did give him good terms on leasing land to show the work. But on most days it's just Gary out on the Highway. He does all the repairs, cuts the grass under the statues, and builds the parking areas and fences. And he's a cheery ambassador, chatting up everyone who stops while he works.

Fisherman's Dream sculpture.
Fisherman's Dream sculpture.

Gary's unflagging energy has spilled into Regent itself, where he transformed his former high school into a medieval-inspired 19-room Enchanted Castle motel, ideal for shutterbugs craving sunset/sunrise shots of Gary's art. The Enchanted Highway Gift Shop in town is open seven days a week, selling miniatures of the big sculptures. On weekends, Gary is often behind the counter.

Gary is now in his seventies, and has two more sculptures nearly ready to go -- a huge web festooned with giant spiders, and Sir Regent, a Goliath-size knight fighting a fire-breathing dragon -- but no farmer willing to lease him land along the Enchanted Highway. The solution, Gary thinks, is to fulfill the promise of the Highway by turning Regent itself into a tourist destination. "Maybe we could have a metal art theme park," he said. "Something that will make people say, 'We gotta see this!'" -- although he cheerfully concedes that the placement of his new sculptures might revert to the Highway if he can find a cooperative landowner.

World's Largest Grasshopper.
World's Largest Grasshopper.

Gary could retire tomorrow and be satisfied that he'd built enough Enchanted Highway critical mass to successfully veer travelers north to I-94. In fact, many visitors say exactly that. "There was a couple here the other day," said Gary, "who drove all the way from Florida. They said, 'We just had to see your sculptures.' Another man said to me, 'I'd have died a poorer man if I hadn't seen this.'"

While Gary admits that, "I must be doing something right," he's he's also quick to deflect praise, saying that everyone can do amazing things if they just try. Effort is never a problem for Gary. He's either at the Castle, or in the gift shop, or at his Regent workshop working on new sculptures, or out on The Enchanted Highway fixing the old ones. "I gotta build, I gotta maintain," he said. "I gotta keep going."

Enchanted Highway

Address:
Regency-Gladstone Rd, Regent, ND
Directions:
I-94 exit 72 (Gladstone). Head south along Regency-Gladstone Rd for many miles.
Phone:
701-563-6400
RA Rates:
The Best
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Nearby Offbeat Places

The Enchanted CastleThe Enchanted Castle, Regent, ND - 2 mi.
Lefor Bank VaultLefor Bank Vault, Lefor, ND - 16 mi.
Young Teddy RooseveltYoung Teddy Roosevelt, Dickinson, ND - 32 mi.
In the region:
Dickinson Dinosaur Museum, Dickinson, ND - 33 mi.

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August 12, 2020

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