Greater Grand Forks: The Little Cities That Could

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Eastern North Dakota holds the record for flat landscape. As far as the eye can see, there’s not one hill, not one valley, not so much as a divot or a ripple. Just a lush carpet of wheat, corn, and sugar beets under an equally flat and boundless blue sky.

And smack in the middle of all this flatness lie the cities of Grand Forks, North Dakota, and East Grand Forks, Minnesota, a thriving urban center nourished by these utopian farmlands and the river that runs through them, the Red River of the North.

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With scarcely a murmur, the river ambles northwards toward Canada and the Hudson Bay, by all appearances a placid, benign presence on the plains. But that would depend on what mood she’s in. A stone pillar planted on her banks stands memorial to the river’s fury. The line just beneath the capstone marks the record-high flood waters that devastated the cities in spring 1997. The water would have been lapping at the bridges in the background of these pictures.

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Today, the two towns are protected by a dike—a man-made ripple in the flat-scape, threading a protective arm between the river and the cities. Where roads breach the dike, flood gates stand ready to cut the cities off from each other, but keep the water firmly at bay.

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Even if Greater Grand Forks chooses to celebrate its identity as an urban oasis in the wilderness of farmland, her citizens still possess the tenacity of their ancestors, the sod busters. Today, sixteen years after the flood, downtown Grand Forks and East Grand Forks is a unique, artful blend of old and new. After such a trial by water, it’s difficult to find an inch that looks slummy. Sturdy turn-of-the-century buildings that stubbornly survived the flood stand side-by-side with bright new buildings sporting classy modern architecture. 

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I’ll admit, Molly and I don’t really go for the city scene, but a stroll down gorgeous DeMeres Avenue, connecting these two towns, was inspiring. At a glance, we could view lovingly restored historic buildings and proudly erected modern structures. This is a city that took to heart the old adage, “Grow where you’re planted.”

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IMAG0018 (640x480)I got to practice waiting at intersections and listening to my girl’s instructions. She understands traffic better than I do.

But credit where credit is due—I knew where to find all the interesting smells. With so many trees and light posts along the street, I was aware of every pawprint of dog traffic that had gone by in the previous week. My girl couldn’t appreciate this on the same level as me, but kindly understood that I was scent-smelling, just as she was sight-seeing.

Also, we got caught in the rain while sniffing around the flood memorial. We got miserably wet, but my girl was determined to get her photo of the memorial. Neither of us are certain how the sky turned out looking so blue in that picture—it was gray and definitely dripping!

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