Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Take A Break In Wahpeton

By Marci Glover

The Great Plains of the USA have their own special magic. Vast expanses of grasslands and fertile soils have attracted people from all over to tame the West and live the good life, making a living from agriculture. Because of the flat topography, rivers tend to be winding and calm, perfect for relaxing. There are many interesting little communities here too, such as Wahpeton, North Dakota.

The county seat of Richland County in North Dakota is called a city, like all other communities in the county. In reality it's a charming small town. The Red River of the North separates it from its sister city, Breckenridge, which lies in Minnesota. The Red River Valley starts here, formed by the Otter Tail and Boix de Sioux Rivers flowing together. Fargo lies 47 miles or so to the north.

The city was named after the area's Native American inhabitants, a Dakota tribe known as the Wakhpetonwan. European settlement began in the mid-1800s, with the first settler arriving in 1869. The village slowly grew until 1872, when the railroad came and brought with it rapid growth. In the early days, flatboat building provided employment to many of the local inhabitants and the Red River was an important trade and transport route.

Today, a little less than eight thousand people call the county seat home. The majority are of European descent, with their ancestors moving here from places like Bohemia, Scandinavia and Germany over a century ago. Minorities include Native Americans, Latinos and African Americans. Today much of the economy is based on the manufacturing plants located here.

One of the fascinating historical attractions in town is the Richland County Historical Museum, which displays artifacts from pioneer days as well as from Native American life. A short drive out of town to the west lies Bagg Bonanza Farm, where you can see how these huge farms operate. Fort Abercrombie lies to the north, in the small village of Abercrombie. A poignant attraction is the Circus Monument in Riverside Cemetery. It honors the memory of some circus employees who were struck by lightning in 1897 as they were erecting the circus tent. If there is a circus in town, you may see them hold a memorial service at the monument.

A popular local attraction is Wahpper, the 'world's largest catfish'. It's a statue of a catfish and stands not far from City Hall. Kids will love Chahinkapa Zoo, which is located in Chahinkapa Park, a great place for a picnic, camping or some informal ball games. For a more formal ball game, visit the Boix de Sioux Golf Course, which has the distinction that it lies in both North Dakota and Minnesota.

There is a casino in nearby Hankinson where you can try your luck. If you prefer the quiet of nature, you're spoiled for choice with opportunities for fishing, hunting, bird-watching and camping. In winter, the snow-covered landscape simply begs to be explored by snowmobile.

There are wonderful restaurants and shops in town to help you enjoy the good life. Moreover, it's easy to stay over. The area has a great selection of accommodation options, including camp grounds, lodges, cabins, motels and hotels.

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