All roads lead to Fort Ransom
By Carrie Snyder
FORT RANSOM, N.D. — While driving the winding road on what once was a 330-foot-deep, mile-wide glacial melt water trench, the curves and valleys made me feel like I was driving on the bottom of a lake.
That’s what it’s like to travel the Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway from Valley City to Fort Ransom with Kathryn and Lisbon in between.
“Fort Ransom is one of the four communities on the byway,” said Bobby Koepplin, chairman of the Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway, and my tour guide. “It’s the only community that has survived without a grain elevator or a railroad; all roads lead to Fort Ransom.”
The byway itself offers 63 miles of nature’s beauty, and 27 unique interpretive panels offering any visitor his or her fill of the region’s history.
“Our whole goal is historic preservation through interpretation and increased visitor traffic,” Koepplin said. “We want to give people an excuse to come down here.”
Fort Ransom, population 105, consists primarily of an older generation who grew up in the community and a younger generation who work at the Bobcat plant in nearby Gwinner.
Vacant buildings line Main Street, with the exception of the post office, a “one-stop shop” run by the community and open a few hours a day, and the Old Mill Grill, open evenings.
“The main street used to have shops, eye doctors, a bank, car dealerships, a blacksmith shop, butcher and general store,” said Ken Grothe, 83, who was born and raised in Fort Ransom. He once ran the Texaco Station (now closed) in town, and also served as mayor. “I think I’ve chaired every organization in this community.”
Grothe helped start the Fort Ransom Sodbusters Association and helps with Sodbuster Days every year in Fort Ransom State Park.
“It’s like teaching history when I do this, and I love it,” he said. “I love this little town I grew up in.”
Fort Ransom boasts attractions such as a rodeo, fishing derby, Ransom County Museum, Sheyenne Valley Arts and Crafts Association and the Viking Statue Monument. And, of course, there’s the 887-acre state park, which contains woodlands, mixed prairie, wildlife, rare birds and aquatic creatures, and almost nine miles of trails.
“We have so many events,” said Kathy Kwapinski, resident and teacher at the 23-student Fort Ransom School. “The school, park and the spirit of the people keep us going strong.”