The Enchanted Highway: How One Man’s Vision Saved a Small Town From Dying Out

The power of art to shape the world has been a discussion alive as long as art itself. For centuries, writers and artists have used their work to make a difference to the wider community, making political commentary and telling important cultural stories throughout history. It is from this drive to make a difference that sculptor, Gary Greff created the ‘Enchanted Highway’ in North Dakota.

The Story Behind the Enchanted Highway

The largest metal sculpture project the world has seen was born when Gary Greff recognized that the community he grew up in was dying out. The population of Regent in North Dakota has dropped by 40 percent since 1990, and Greff, determined to keep the town alive, created an outdoor gallery of metal sculpture along the highway to provide an attraction for drivers. His goal was to turn the 30 mile stretch of road between Regent and Interstate 94 into a sculpture park, hoping to bring tourists to the town. “I wanted each sculpture, each sight to be a picture, like you’re driving into a picture frame,” explained Greff. Construction began nearly 30 years ago, and Greff continues adding sculptures, directing travelers into Regent, where he has now opened a gift shop and medieval-themed hotel called ‘Enchanted Castle’. Earlier this year, funds were allocated to help with the maintenance of the Enchanted Highway, which attracts 6,000 tourist cars a year, and brings Greff’s vision to save the town to life.

Self-taught and Sustainable

Greff is a self-taught metal sculptor, and uses scrap metal to create his work. In the modern world, sustainability in art is key, with a growing number of artists recognizing that new work should add value to the world without causing it harm. Gardner Metal Recycling explain that using recycled metal ensures that resources are preserved and the need for mining is reduced. By using scrap metal, Greff ensures that his project helps the community of Regent without adding strain to the world’s resources. With his vision for the Enchanted Highway as his driving force, Greff set about learning how to weld, and sourced scrap metal to begin making his vision a reality. With sustainably sourced materials and themes that represent the town he strives to save, it’s clear the sustainability and cultural preservation are at the heart of his work.

The Treasures on the Enchanted Highway

Greff’s metal sculptures reflect regional culture and wildlife. There are currently seven sculptures on the route, with an eighth under construction. The first sculpture in the collection, and the only one that can be seen from the Interstate 94, is ‘Geese In Flight,’ which made it into the Guinness Book of World Records in 2002 as the world’s largest scrap metal sculpture. Greff intends each sculpture to be completely different from the last, while still representing the area. Other sculptures include ‘Deer Crossing,’ ‘Grasshoppers’ and ‘Teddy Roosevelt Rides Again,’ each completely distinct in character.

Greff had a vision for a project that he thought could make a difference to his hometown. With no artistic background, he learned the skills he needed to bring his project to life, and the result has kept Regent firmly on the map, drawing more tourists each year. Art certainly has the power to shape the world we live in, and it is through the drive and passion of artists like Greff that real change is realized.

Lewis Mitchell

Lewis Mitchell is a freelance writer from the U.K. who specializes in technology and Internet niches.