Al Neuharth

Small Town in the Great Plains, USA

Neuharth, Al. "Small Town in the Great Plains." USA Today, 22 April 2005, sec. 15A.

Eureka, S.D.- For years, small towns on prairies across the USA have been getting smaller as young people move to big cities. Now, some town fathers are trying unique ways to reverse the trend. Examples:

In Crosby, N.D., (population 1,089) they’ll give you a free plot of land if you’ll build a new home. A free country club membership is thrown in.

In Ellsworth, Kan., (population 2,965) they’ll give you free land and also the down payment for a new house if you have school-age children.

Here in my birthplace (population 1,101) they’ll give you a highly discounted low-interest loan if you’ll reopen and run the hardware store or lumberyard that recently closed down.

When I was 29, I left South Dakota for the big cities. But since my “retirement” in Florida at age 65, I’ve been back often. A few years ago, I was able to buy the old family home in which I was born. I was shocked that the average three-bedroom house here sells for only about $15,000, with taxes of around $400 a year.

Now, those taxes may go up a few dollars, for good reason. Last week, voters here approved a bond issue for a big, new artesian well to guarantee that this town’s beautiful landmark lake will continue to have enough water. A year ago, they “opted out” of a state freeze on school tax increases, because they want to ensure continuing their first class public school system.

Mayor Mark Opp pushed both of those tax-increase measures. Opp, 43, has parents who are 79 and children who are 19, 18, 14, and 2. He wants to make sure this little town continues to have the right environment for young and old.

If you really mean it when you say you’d like to “get away from it all,” check out these little prairies towns. You might end up exclaiming, “Eureka, I’ve found it!” That’s what my German-Russian ancestors said when they came here nearly 150 years ago.

Other views on small towns

“People with small children living in a large community would appreciate the benefits of living in a small rural setting. Small classrooms and summer recreational opportunities for the entire family are common traits you will find in most rural communities.”

- Robert Homolka, mayor of Ellsworth, Kan.

“Crosby wants to attract families with portable jobs or business start-ups, and the free lots and free memberships to organizations within the county are tools we are using to market to families outside our region.”

- David Olson, director of Economic Development for Divide County, N.D.

Reprinted with permission of the USA Today.

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