FMCA members will find fun waiting for them in this friendly North Dakota town, which will play host to the association’s 74th International Convention this August.
By Candice Helseth
When crew members building the Great Northern Railroad stopped work for the long North Dakota winter back in 1886, they set up a tent city at a place they called Minot. Like magic, the town sprang up almost overnight. Today Minot’s 36,000 residents are proud of their city’s recent ranking as the seventh-best small city in the United States.
Yet another city “” a motorhome metropolis “” will arise in Minot this August, when the North Dakota State Fairgrounds hosts FMCA’s 74th International Convention. The association has convened in Minot two times in the past: June 1990 and August 1995. This year’s “Dakota Expedition” convention will take place August 15, 16, 17, and 18.
Since the convention was last held on these grounds, the North Dakota State Fair Center has undergone a major transformation that includes the addition of a 190,000-square-foot air-conditioned building. Several other buildings on the grounds, which cover 163 acres, also will be used for the convention.
The first county fair was held at the grounds in 1923. In 1965 the state of North Dakota purchased the land for $1, and the North Dakota State Fair was held there in 1966. Today the fairgrounds hosts numerous events. A Labor Day weekend auto show called Motor Magic, as well as the Norsk Hostfest, North America’s largest Scandinavian festival, held in October, are among the largest. Hockey games, agriculture and sports shows, flea markets, auctions, and other events also fill the calendar. The fairgrounds’ permanent facilities include a gymnastics center; the headquarters of the Ward County Historical Society; auto racetracks; a go-cart course; and a miniature golf course.
FMCA members will want to meander over to the Ward County Historical Society’s Pioneer Village and Museum once they are situated at the fairgrounds. An 1891 log cabin, the circa 1886 first Ward County courthouse, and a blacksmith shop are among several preserved and restored historical buildings that are part of the museum. Vintage automobiles and thousands of artifacts from the past will keep history buffs browsing for hours.
When they visit Minot, FMCA members will have a firsthand opportunity to learn why tourism has become North Dakota’s second-largest source of income. Big blue skies, wide-open spaces, relaxed driving on uncongested highways, outdoor opportunities that range from recreational sports to observing wildlife in its natural habitat, and the state’s reputation for old-fashioned hospitality all contribute to North Dakota’s strong tourism appeal.
Minot itself is worthy of exploration as well. Make one of your first stops the Minot Convention & Visitors Bureau, which is located on the grounds of the Scandinavian Heritage Park. Nearly 40 percent of the city’s residents are of Scandinavian ancestry. The building that houses the CVB office was inspired by those built for the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. It also is home to the Sons of Norway Thor Lodge and the headquarters for the Norsk Hostfest.
Heritage Park reveals the region’s strong ties to the Scandinavian countries. Among its more splendid attractions is a full-size replica of a Norwegian Gol Stave Church, one of only two in the United States. A Danish windmill; a gigantic Swedish dala horse; an authentic Finnish sauna; and several other buildings and statues reflect the cultural interests of the many area people whose ancestors came from Scandinavian countries.
Friendly folks at the CVB office will provide information about other attractions in town, such as the city’s parks. The Souris River (also called the Mouse River by locals, since “Souris” is the French word for “mouse”) meanders through Roosevelt and Oak parks, beautifully landscaped oases that offer picnic sites and walking and biking trails. At Roosevelt Park, visitors also can take a ride on a 2/5-scale Great Northern locomotive. On Saturday mornings, local farmers and gardeners market their vegetables, homemade breads, and other goodies at Oak Park’s farmers’ market.
Within the confines of Roosevelt Park is Roosevelt Park Zoo. Black-footed penguins; a river otter exhibit; kangaroos; a white Bengal tiger; and more than 200 mammals, birds, and reptiles “” among them threatened or endangered species “” make their home there. Farm animals at the Discovery Barn love to be petted, and the Zoo Education Center offers a variety of hands-on activities. Zoo admission is $2.50 for children ages 5 to 12 and $5 for everyone 13 and older. It is open from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. in summer.
The Dakota Territory Air Museum harbors a collection of air memorabilia and antique aircraft. It is open Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; admission is $1 for children ages 6 to 17, and $2 for visitors 18 and older.
More transportation-related exhibits await at the Railroad Museum of Minot, which traces the progression of the railroad and its importance in Minot’s development through photos and exhibits. It is open on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Admission is free.
Rich in arts opportunities, Minot boasts a variety of private and commercial galleries. On Main Street downtown, the Taube Museum of Art offers monthly art shows, educational programs, and social events. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for students.
Hartnett Gallery, on the Minot State University campus, features monthly shows open to the public, and the Minot Public Library also has monthly exhibits. Admission to both of these facilities is free.
Antiques lovers and collectors will find an abundance of shops in town. Two 100-year-old houses have been converted into antiques and gift shops. The architecture and interior décor in the 1899 Victorian Home Sweet Home and the Colonial-style House Next Door (yes, they are next door to each other) make visiting them worthwhile, even if you’re not in the mood to shop.
History and the arts go hand in hand with exercise when you stroll through the Eastwood Park neighborhood, which includes 150 homes built during the early 1900s in a wide range of architectural styles. The Riverwalk, a 2½-mile walking and biking trail, meanders past the Souris River and its views.
Five golf courses challenge all levels of golfers. If you like pitting your skills against water, Souris Valley Golf Course in the Mouse River valley can satisfy that need. Minot Country Club Golf Course, open to out-of-town guests, is rated fourth among North Dakota courses. Jack Hoeven Wee Links is perfect for the young at heart who bring their children and grandchildren. In fact, you’re not allowed on the course without a child player. Don’t forget miniature golf, either: Valleyview Falls Mini-Golf and Go-Carts is a 36-hole course built into the side of a hill.
Kids will enjoy splashing around at the Splashdown Dakota Super Slides, a 24,000-square-foot indoor water park located at the Sleep Inn and Suites and attached to the Dakota Square Mall. You do not need to be a hotel guest to enjoy the water park. It features three major slides, four pool areas, and a 45-person hot tub. The game arcade is also an attraction for the younger set. The park is open from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. daily; the entry fee for all ages is $7 during the week and $9 on the weekends.
Most vacations aren’t complete without some shopping. Dakota Square Mall is home to more than 75 stores and 15 restaurants. Downtown Minot’s Main Street provides a specialty area featuring a blend of art, gift, professional, and specialty shops. Town & Country Shopping Center and several individual retail outlets also will welcome you.
North Dakota was the last state in the Union to have a winery within its borders. Pointe of View Winery, 10 minutes west of Minot, was established in 2002. Plan a tour and wine-tasting treat into your trip; it may be the only time you sample wines made from fruits such as Juneberries and chokecherries. For directions and more information, phone the winery at (701) 839-5505.
Several events have been planned for the weekend prior to the FMCA convention. On Saturday, August 13, Scandinavian Heritage Park will be the site of a Dakota Cruisers car show featuring vintage and classic autos, as well as a free concert of 1950s and ’60s tunes. The event takes place from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. The Historical Society will hold its Downtown Walking Tour on Saturday also, inviting visitors to explore Minot’s Prohibition-era reputation as “Little Chicago.”
Minot Air Force Base will hold its annual, and very popular, Northern Neighbors Day on Sunday, August 14. A fantastic air show, military demonstrations, and displays of vintage and current aircraft give an insider’s look into an area that is often closed to the public for security reasons. Admission is free to this daylong event; the airbase is 14 miles north of Minot.
It’s certainly easier to use a towed vehicle to maneuver throughout the community. But whether you’re driving in Minot or taking an excursion outside city limits, you’ll be comfortable traveling in your motorhome, too.
Day Trips From Minot
International Peace Garden
Two hours (94 miles) from Minot, this spot commemorates peace and friendship between the United States and Canada. It encompasses the border of both countries. The 2,339-acre facility is at the height of its botanical beauty in August with more than 150,000 blooming plants, walking trails, and monuments such as the stunning Peace Chapel, the only building that bridges both borders. Daily programs include garden tours, nature hikes, and crafts programs. Admission is $10 per vehicle. Phone (888) 432-6733 or visit www.peacegarden.com for more information.
Birding enthusiasts can view many of the state’s more than 350 bird species “” some of them on the rare and endangered lists “” at national wildlife refuges near Minot. Within 70 miles of Minot are five such preserves: Des Lacs; Lostwood; Upper Souris; J. Clark Salyer; and Audubon. For more information, contact the Minot tourism office.
Visit the geographical center of North America, marked with a stone cairn, at Rugby, an hour’s drive from Minot. The Prairie Village and Museum, the 88-foot Northern Lights Tower, and several gift and antique shops contribute to Rugby’s charm. Call the Rugby Convention and Visitors Bureau at (701) 776-5846 or visit www.rugbynorthdakota.com for more information.
Energy is North Dakota’s third-largest source of income, and the Garrison Dam at Riverdale is a hydroelectric generating facility that offers prearranged tours; call (701) 654-7441 for more information. Recreation abounds in the area with several businesses offering boat rentals and other water activities. Tours also can be arranged at the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery, one of the largest walleye- and northern pike-producing facilities in the world. Camping, fishing, hunting, and hiking can be pursued at the hatchery area preserve. For more information, call (701) 654-7451 or visit www.r6.fws.gov/garrisondam/info.htm.
Four casinos, all on American Indian reservations, are located within easy driving distance of Minot, and they offer RV accommodations of some sort. They include Spirit Lake Casino near Devils Lake, (800) 946-8238; Sky Dancer Casino in Belcourt, (888) 244-9467; Four Bears Casino in New Town, (800) 294-5454; and Prairie Knights Casino and Resort near Bismarck, (800) 425-8277.
A rare buffalo
At Big Sky Buffalo Ranch in Granville, only 15 miles from Minot, you can see a rare albino buffalo bull that was born in 2003. This is a working ranch that raises and sells buffalo and elk meat, as well as Western and buffalo-related gifts. Tours are available by appointment. For more information, visit www.bigskybuffalo.com or call (800) 570-7220.
Minot Convention & Visitors Bureau
1020 S. Broadway
Minot, ND 58702
The Minot CVB can provide you with an area visitors guide that contains more information about the attractions mentioned in this article.
If you would like information about these as well as other attractions throughout North Dakota, contact:
North Dakota Tourism
1600 E. Century Ave.
Bismarck, ND 58503-2057
Minot Area Campgrounds
1900 W. U.S. 2 and U.S. 52 Bypass S.
Minot, ND 58701
Expressway RV Park
717 27th St. S.E.
Minot, ND, 58701
Minot KOA Campground
5261 U.S. 52 E.
Minot, ND, 58701
U.S. 2 & U.S. 52 Bypass E.
Minot, ND, 58701
2200 Burdick Expressway East
Minot, ND, 58701
Roughrider Campground, C6577
500 54th St. N.W.
Minot, ND, 58703
Swenson Inc., C7946
1945 20th Ave. S.E.
Minot, ND 58701
Facts About Minot
- Minot was named after one of the investors in the Great Northern Railroad, Henry D. Minot.
- Minot is in the Central Time Zone.
- The Minot Air Force Base is home to a Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.
- Sales tax within the Minot city limits is 7 percent. Sales tax is 6 percent outside city limits. Groceries are exempt from sales tax in North Dakota.
- Minot is divided approximately in half, north and south, by the Souris River.
- Minot was known as Little Chicago during Prohibition, because it was a hub for Al Capone’s liquor smuggling operations. Tunnels still remain beneath the city.
- In summer, Minot’s average high temperature is 82 and average low is 58. In winter, its average high is 15 and average low is -2.