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Win the battle by not starting a war

Not too long ago, our little town of Center, N.D., was surprised to learn it was the geographic center of North America -- an honor that had been held by Rugby, N.D. (population 2,800), since the 1930s. Consider the opportunities!...

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Madison Berger (left) and Oliver County Extension Agent Rick Schmidt (right) hold the red ribbon for ribbon cutters (from left to right) Oliver County Commissioners Lee Husfloen and Darrell Berger, City of Center Mayor Harold Wilkens, first official visitor Brittney Gibson, and Clark Gullickson, Miller-Linn American Legion Post 90 as they completed the dedication of the scientific geographic center of North America, THE CENTER – Just Ask The Scientists. (Annette Tait/Special to Agweek)

Not too long ago, our little town of Center, N.D., was surprised to learn it was the geographic center of North America - an honor that had been held by Rugby, N.D. (population 2,800), since the 1930s. Consider the opportunities!

And consider the potential pitfalls, one of which had made the news a year or so prior. A chance conversation in Hanson's Bar, Robinson, N.D., led to an online search, and the discovery that Rugby's trademark had lapsed, and the purchase of the trademark by Hanson's Bar. Okay, so the location is about 100 miles south of the original, but it still offered a novel way to promote tourism and sell souvenirs in the tiny town of 50.

Rugby didn't take the news sitting down. After all, the town is the closest populated area to the coordinates identified by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1928, which are about 6 miles west of nearby Balta, N.D. And that location truly was "pinpointed." When the geographic center of North America was established, the accepted methodology was to make a cardboard cutout and balance it on the point of a pin. (We're guessing the point was a little larger than on an average pin, but you get the idea.)

At any rate, Rugby and Robinson argued over the matter, with Rugby declining a tongue-in-cheek offer for the towns' mayors to battle it out in a winner-takes-all charity boxing match. Rugby eventually prevailed - and after about a year of wrangling, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office returned the trademark.

The quarreling between Rugby and Robinson was still in progress when the good people of Center found their city in the news as well. A new GPS-based calculation method by a State University of New York, Buffalo, professor placed the geographical center of North America just north of the city.

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Exciting news, yes. But what to do with it?

They'd already seen the not-so-friendly rivalry between Rugby and Robinson, and didn't want a repeat. But the opportunity to see where the designation could take tourism was attractive. Center (population around 550) sits in the center of Oliver County, (population about 1,850, and the fifth least populous county in the state). As with many rural towns, its business landscape changed when paved roads made it faster and easier to access larger cities nearby. Plus, its location at the juncture of state two-lane highways doesn't draw the spontaneous tourism that can be promoted for towns along the interstate and U.S. highways.

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Local civic club members and youths volunteered to plan and build THE CENTER – Just Ask the Scientists visitors site.

So explore the options they did. And they came up with a viable way to build their own niche without detracting from Rugby's existing monument or Robinson's tourism efforts. Center created its own unique trademark: THE CENTER - Just Ask the Scientists. It lays claim to the scientific method used to identify the coordinates, while still honoring the historical methodology Rugby promotes with its official obelisk marker.

In true rural fashion, the community came together to create a tourist waypoint. The actual coordinates - luckily only yards west of North Dakota Highway 48 - have been marked with a giant boulder, one of several donated by the local coal mine. Local entities provided heavy equipment for loading and placement, and local truckers transported them to the site. Community groups provided materials and labor for fencing, and the local American Legion post donated the flag and flagpole.

While still a work in progress, the community recently turned out for a dedication to welcome the first out-of-state visitor to the scientific geographical center of North America - who, coincidentally, also planned to visit the obelisk at the historical geographical center.

Definitely a win-win!

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Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA
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