Grand Forks, ND

East Grand Forks, MN

We drove a bit over a hundred miles from our last stop in Bemidji, MN to visit Grand Forks, ND.  We are parked across the Red River from Grand Forks in neighboring East Grand Forks, MN.  Sherlock RV Park is in the Red River State Recreation Area, a park that runs along the east bank of the river.  The State Recreation Area connects with parks along the other side of the river to form the Greater Grand Forks Greenbelt.  The greenbelt was developed to provide a clear area along the river that allows for future flooding.  The RV area is located in what use to be the residential neighborhood of Sherlock, which was destroyed by the Flood of 1997.  After the flood the state of Minnesota purchased all the property and turned it into the RV park.  As a result, the roads in the park are all the old neighborhood streets and the RV sites are located where front yards were before the flood.


Below the arrow in the center of the picture above you can see a bridge.  It is the bridge that carries US Rte. 2 over the Red River.  The zoom picture below shows the welcome sign for North Dakota.

We rode our bikes along the path next to the river and crossed another bridge into Grand Forks.  After first enjoying a refreshing drink at a local Seattle-based coffee shop, we headed for a tour of the University of North Dakota.

You know the winters are cold when many buildings are connected by long, enclosed walkways

In the world of college athletics the University of North Dakota is well known for its ice hockey teams.  The men’s ice hockey team has won seven national championships and has been runner-up five times.  They both play in the Ralph Engelstad Arena, a very, very impressive facility on the edge of the campus.  The arena, which seats 11,643, has been called the “Taj Mahal of hockey.”  The $104 million building was built with materials that would not usually be found in such a facility.  For instance, the concourses  are covered in granite flooring, each spectator seat is made of Cherry wood and leather upholstery, escalators bring spectators between levels, and full-color LCD displays dot the arena.  Wayne Gretzky has called the structure “one of the most beautiful buildings we have in North America.” 

A little research on the namesake of the arena proved to be interesting.  It turns out that UND alumnus Ralph Engelstad made his money owning casinos in Las Vegas and Mississippi.  He was also a Nazi sympathizer.  He raised accusations of being sympathetic to Nazism owing to his collection of Nazi memorabilia stored in a private room within a casino-hotel, including a painting of himself dressed in a Nazi uniform (captioned “To Adolf from Ralphie”), a painting of Hitler with the reverse caption, and a collection of antique cars alleged to have once belonged to German Nazi leaders.  On April 20 in 1986 and 1988, he hosted parties to celebrate Adolf Hitler’s birthday at his casino in Las Vegas that featured bartenders in T-shirts reading “Adolf Hitler — European tour 1939-45”. Because of this, in 1989, the Nevada Gaming Commission fined Engelstad $1.5 million “for actions that damaged the reputation and image of Nevada’s gaming industry.”

Engelstad also became involved in a fight over the Fighting Sioux logo of the university. When there was a possibility that the school would change its mascot, he threatened to withdraw funding midway in construction of the arena if the long standing nickname were to be changed.  The logo was placed in thousands of instances in the arena, making the prospect of removal a costly measure. Later, Engelstad placed the stadium under private (rather than University) management and stipulated that the Fighting Sioux motif be kept indefinitely.  An Engelstad family trust continues to own the arena and rents it to the University.  In  2012, after a state referendum, the university dropped the nickname Fighting Sioux and it has no nickname today.

Outside the main entrance to the arena is a beautiful statue of the great Sioux leader Sitting Bull.

Riding back along the river we came upon the marker pictured below showing flood levels of the Red River for over a hundred years.

After the devastation of the 1997 flood the two communities of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks devised a way to protect the cities against future floods while keeping some views of the river.   Its called an invisible flood wall.

A series of dirt levees and walls were built along the river.  Openings in the walls allowed roads to cross the river and maintained river views for the downtowns.  The openings in the flood wall have a wide vertical groove in each pillar.

If flooding is imminent, metal beams are placed across the opening and are locked into the grooves, preventing water from entering the downtowns.

The invisible flood walls have been effective in protecting the downtown areas of the two cities in recent floods.

After our short stay in Grand Forks, we are off to Devils Lake where Terry and LuAnn are waiting for us at Grahams Island State Park.  More on that later . . .

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17 Responses to Grand Forks, ND

  1. allisonmohr says:

    We have friends who live in Manitoba. Until we met them, we did not know what a menace the Red River can be. That’s a pretty cool RV park in East Grand Forks. Looking forward to your future travels and pictures of same.

    • placestheygo says:

      I had remembered hearing about the town preparing sand bags in the past as the Red River rose on the news. But never knew how bad it really got. It is quite remarkable how aesthetically pleasing the walls are that were built around the city that they attach the extra extensions to when flooding is a danger. What an ingenious idea!

  2. Gay says:

    What a neat way to recycle land…the RV park is awesome!
    I had no idea the Red River was so treacherous. I enjoyed the interesting bits of history.
    Safe travels and enjoy your time with LuAnn and Terry….

    • placestheygo says:

      The park was very nice and quite different with large streets. No tight corners here:)

      The Red River has made the news in the past. I never realized how big a disaster it was. But the new design is ingenious and aesthetically pleasing.

  3. How fascinating that your RV park was essentially a neighborhood! I wish all RV parks were that spread out!

  4. Jodee Gravel says:

    Engelstad was quite the colorful character! Anyone who could damage the “reputation” of the gaming industry in Las Vegas was certainly notorious :-). The statue is lovely. I guess flooding happens slowly as the stacking of the beams doesn’t look like a quick process – brilliant though! Love the recycled RV park. That bridge sign really shows off the zoom on your camera – wow!

    • placestheygo says:

      I was surprised that the university would work with with this fellow after reading about his background. I guess money trumps reputation!!

      The city must have a lot of help with this process. They put up everything well in advance and only leave the main roadways and railways open until the last minute. I agree that it seems like a brilliant idea.

      The town must be full of clever people! Recycle the land for the park was super creative.

  5. pmbweaver says:

    Now someone was very clever to make use of that flooded area. Great idea for a campground.

    This Engelstad fellow sounds like an interesting guy…but I don’t like him.

    Pretty interesting about the invisible flood wall. Another great thinker at work.

    Enjoy another outing with Terry and LuAnn

    • placestheygo says:

      Clever people must live in this town between the “invisible” flood walls and the recycled land for the park.

      The hockey arena is a gorgeous building but boy was I disappointed when I read about the man’s past. Not worth the money to me.

      We had a great second get together with LuAnn and Terry!!

  6. If only all RV parks are like that neighborhood 🙂 and also all of us blogging friends meet up, won’t that be cool!
    Those levees looked like the ones I saw in New Orleans .

    • placestheygo says:

      This would be a great park to meet with a large group the way it was set up.

      I imagine the levees would be similar but does New Orleans have the “invisible” wall idea?

  7. Laurel says:

    Ralph Engelstad sounds like a very weird character (a painting from Ralphie to Adolf? That’s scary!). Nonetheless, it’s a very interesting background story — I especially like that he was fined for damaging the reputation of Nevada’s gaming industry! This is history that you’ll never learn in history classes…

  8. LuAnn says:

    After hearing more about your time in Grand Forks, I wish we had taken the time to stop. It looks like an interesting city and I would have liked to see that aerial bridge up-close.

  9. Sherry says:

    This is a really interesting post. Looks like at least one city gets it in terms of not spending disaster dollars to build back in the same place. Glad the folks who lived there were able to relocate. Looks like a wonderful RV Park. Love the statue and plaque to Sitting Bull even if he was not able to protect his people he sure did try. But I agree that the fighting Sioux is not an appropriate name for a school’s athletic teams. I would think the university would be rather embarrassed to be associated with Engelstad. They could do without the granite, cherry and leather.

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