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Finding the treasures off the interstate

The other night, I went to bed with a plan for driving three hours south into South Dakota. This route I had chosen was the most direct from Point A to Point B and would take me through nothing but farm country. Perfect.

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The town of Faulkton, S.D., is a little off the beaten path but has plenty to offer both residents and visitors. Photo taken Aug. 15, 2018. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)

The other night, I went to bed with a plan for driving three hours south into South Dakota. This route I had chosen was the most direct from Point A to Point B and would take me through nothing but farm country. Perfect.

Well, almost perfect, I had realized, sitting up suddenly from my pillow. In my preparations, I hadn't thought of where on the road I'd be able to fill gas or use the bathroom if needed. So, I grabbed my phone and retraced my route, double checking what towns were along my path and what services they have.

To be honest, I'm not used to getting off the interstate. I grew up somewhat near the junction of Interstate 94 and Interstate 90 in Montana, then traveled east down Interstate 94 to go to college in Bismarck, N.D. After college, a few years of work and getting married, I moved farther east down Interstate 94 to Medina, N.D. So, other than the months of my college internship in Pierre, S.D., I've always been in a community along the interstate.

As a child, I sometimes would try to look around our farm and find a direction where one could forget that town was close at hand. I'd try to find a view with no houses, no power lines, no roads. It was a hard task then and a harder one now, as I've realized over the years that I was nowhere near the middle of nowhere and instead just on the edge of "somewhere."

And there is comfort in being close to "somewhere." If we needed something, we drove into Billings. End of story. We never had to think overly hard about groceries or parts. Hop in the car, get what we needed, go back home. It was the same in Bismarck. Even Pierre, far off the interstate, had all the necessities I needed to survive.

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Living in Medina has been a bit of an adjustment, because we're almost always running to nearby, larger cities for what we need. But there is comfort in the fact that we can take the interstate to get here or there, allowing for easy drives.

My drive into South Dakota took me to Faulkton, a town 65 miles from Aberdeen (the location of their closest Walmart) and 90 miles from Pierre. It was a gorgeous drive on state highways and county roads.

The people of Faulkton and other towns like it have to, by necessity, plan their trips to the bigger communities carefully, getting all that they need for as long a time as possible to avoid too many repeat trips.

Once upon a time, towns died out when the railroad didn't go through them. While in Faulkton, I learned about the town of LaFoon, the first county seat of South Dakota's Faulk County. When the railroads went through Faulkton, LaFoon died out and most of its buildings moved to its westerly neighbor.

In more recent times, some towns have struggled because the interstate didn't go through. As people consolidate into larger communities, closer to the beaten path, the towns left behind fall into disrepair.

In some of those smaller towns, it takes people dedicated to keeping as many services close to home to keep the towns alive.

Next week, I'll bring you the story of what Faulkton is doing to revitalize its community, not just with the necessities of life but also art and modern conveniences. The town, with only 700 people, isn't waiting for the interstate to come through. They're taking control of their destiny with unique projects to spruce up their town and maybe draw a few more people to take a different route and come for a visit.

As someone used to sticking close to the interstate, I say it's well worth the trip.

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Jenny Schlecht

Related Topics: THE SORTING PEN
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