Bismarck, North Dakota

North Dakota wasn’t on my short list for visits until my cousin Brian announced he was getting married. He lives in North Dakota with Heather, his new wife. They have lived in Grand Forks, but they are now in the capital, Bismarck. That is where her family is from, and that is where the wedding was last Sunday. So, we packed up our stuff, grabbed our kids, and made the trip; with a brief stopover in Minneapolis. I love visiting new places, and Bismarck was no exception. It is a quaint little prairie city that has a relaxed feel.

I loved the airport. It was a four gate dream with no lines, no shuttles, no conveyors, and kind employees.

The northern part town is up on a hill nestled against the Missouri River, and the southern part is in the river’s flood plain. So, with the nasty winter and wet spring, Bismarck, like several other North Dakota towns, has been at risk for major flooding. The worst North Dakota floods were in Minot, with the Souris River breeching its levee. The Souris hit its peak flood stage while we were in North Dakota, so it was amazing to be there while it was happening. Entire communities rallied to support the flood victims. That river caused devastation and the displacement of more than 10,000 residents. It was surreal to see the milder Missouri River flooding from the airplane as we flew from Minneapolis to Bismarck. The view of the river, which had taken over acres and acres of farmland, was amazing.

We have had our own wild weather in southern New England this year, but aside from the heavy snow, some awful thunderstorms, and two tornadoes, we haven’t experienced the magnitude of problems that North Dakota is experiencing. I went on several runs around Bismarck and got a close look at the river and its levees. I witnessed minor flooding and saw how people were preparing for the worst. I’m writing this nearly a week later, and it seems as if the worst of it has come and water levels are dropping, but more rain could raise the threat level again. Many people in the southern part of town had sandbagged their homes and businesses as a precaution. If the levee system failed, south Bismarck would be soggy for sure.

The town has a nice trail system with bike paths, walking paths, dirt roads, and even some singletrack. I tried a bit of each and also ran some roads. I explored the capital building grounds, which is on a hill in the northern part of town. It is a modern capital and is the tallest building in North Dakota, which isn’t very tall. The wedding was the same weekend as a huge annual softball tournament, but the wet weather and flooded fields had a huge impact on this year’s attendance. The tournament is usually a strong economic driver for the town, but I heard that half as many teams came to play this year.

It was nice to experience a northern plains-state wedding. It seemed like there was some sort of church on every corner. There were a lot of churches for a population of 61,000. A pre-wedding party was held at Capital City Sporting Clays, which was a unique experience. In Bismarck, sport shooting is as popular as golf. CCSC is laid out like a golf course with many stations spread out over acres of range. The folks we met were passionate about their guns. I was curiously impressed with their devotion to this sport, and pleased that most of the shooters walk the mile long course rather than driving carts. They pushed modified jog strollers with their shotguns holstered on either side, and with the ammo sitting where the baby would normally be.

North Dakota has a lot of agribusiness. The stores we visited sold all of the requisite farmer supplies. I’ve also never been to a place that had more farm and construction equipment dealers. The heavy machinery was abundant and our son was thrilled. During the 30 minute drive outside of town to visit CCSC, we saw lots of tractors and many more cows.

As for the wedding, it was beautiful. Our son was the ring bearer and our niece was the flower girl. They were a gorgeous couple, just like the groom and bride.

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