Gary Greff: Enchanted Highway Sculptor
“Once they come in, they step back in history, they step back in time. They become enchanted.”
Take exit 72 off I-94, and you’ll find a nicely paved road that winds through the rolling hills in the area of the state that was not smoothed out by the glaciers of the last ice age. But this is no ordinary Midwestern road. Here you’ll find 70-foot fish, 60-foot pheasants, Teddy Roosevelt riding a horse and so much more. The man behind this wonder is Gary Greff and he’s always full of oversized ideas that center on bringing people to one small town in southwest North Dakota.
Gary fondly remembers his childhood days in Regent, walking along the river, riding bike and scrounging at the dump ground. “It became a place of growing up where you developed yourselves, you developed your character,” he states. Education was his chosen career path, one he stayed on until a fateful day helping his mother in the garden. Gary pulled an onion and wondered why there wasn’t a fresh diced onion on the market. “If I could develop this product,” he thought, “I could have a factory in Regent. Now that would help keep Regent alive, keep the school going and employ people.” With nieces and nephews in school, he wanted to see them continue life in their small town. Gary adds, “There’s so much they learn by being in a small town.”
A research firm took on Gary’s idea and wanted him readily available for the next couple years, meaning he would have to get out of education. With time on his hands, he contemplated other ways to bring people to Regent, and the idea for the Enchanted Highway was born. He thought, “Nobody’s going to drive 30 miles off the interstate for normal sculptures but they might drive for the world’s largest.”
Gary set forth learning how to weld, working on regional support, recruiting volunteers and designing giant whimsical sculptures to fit North Dakota. And – long and short of it – the onion product went by the wayside and the Enchanted Highway put down roots and grew.
It’s not been all rainbows and roses, or rather deer and grasshoppers, along the Enchanted Highway. The day Regent School closed was a low point. Instead of moping around, Gary looked at ways to transform the school, making it a destination in Regent. “If Regent was ever to be a destination,” Gary thought, “we had to have a hotel.” But it couldn’t be just any hotel. To fit the enchanted theme, the school has been transformed into the Enchanted Castle, a medieval style hotel with a tavern and steakhouse. “When you walk into the steakhouse and tavern, you have a completely different atmosphere,” Gary says. “I’ve had people ask what this is doing in Regent, North Dakota. This is so unique.”
To fully experience the Enchanted Highway, get out of the car and be mindful of the feeling you get as you stand beneath each colossal structure. Allow yourself to become more and more enchanted at each stop. And, at the end of the road, walk into the Enchanted Castle to enter a whole new realm. Each person taking the journey is important to Gary. He states, “If it wasn’t for the visitors, I probably would have given up a long time ago. I always use one quote one guy said to me when we visited in the gift shop: ‘You know, I would have died a poorer man if I hadn’t seen the Enchanted Highway.’” With feedback like that, Gary is going to keep dreaming, keep building and encouraging others to do the same. He emphasizes, “You’ve got a dream. Live that dream. Don’t hesitate. If I can do it, a person who didn’t know how to weld and didn’t have an art class, if I can go out and build 110-foot metal sculptures, I think you can do whatever you put your mind to.”
After visiting the Enchanted Highway and Enchanted Castle, Gary also recommends visiting:
- The Hettinger County Museum
- Dickinson, particularly the Dickinson Museum Center
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park