Zaleski: Real big fibs: 'Oak Ridge,' 'Prairie Grove'


Out and about:

Why do developers and builders hang stupid, even ironic names on subdivisions and shopping districts? Why do Fargo and West Fargo city planners and elected officials either ignore or condone place names that are not representative of the places? Vacuous. Absurd. Dishonest.

West Fargo and Fargo are not unique to this goofy phenomenon, but our cities along the Red and Sheyenne rivers have some beauts.

In the far southwest metro, some original thinker dubbed the sprawling tract anchored by a new Cash Wise store—get this—"Oak Ridge." Sounds nice, inviting, scenic, idyllic. A couple of conspicuous nodi: There is no ridge, as in a visible geographic feature that, if it were real, would rise above the flatlands, that is, the parking lots. Second, whatever oaks are out there are transplanted nursery-grown, twig-like saplings. There are no prominent native bur oaks. Couldn't miss 'em if there were. Beautiful trees. You know, the kind developers routinely bulldoze because it's inconvenient or might cost a few bucks more to plan around them. Thus, at "Oak Ridge" there is no ridge, no oaks. Yet, visitors are greeted by big sign that's little more than a conceited, well-lighted fib.

A few steps west of the splendid edifice of Sts. Anne and Joachim Catholic Church at the junction of 25th Street South and 52nd Avenue South is a mixed use development that is curiously misnamed "Prairie Grove." It's jiggery-pokery. The irony is depressing.

There was an old-growth prairie grove on the land—what was left of a farmstead. The several-acre stand of trees was mostly sturdy ash, towering cottonwoods, chokecherry, plum, other types of flowering trees and understory shrubs, a few healthy American elms. Trails and shaded glades sheltered songbirds, small animals and, until the grove was hemmed in by streets and parking lots, suburban deer and turkeys. It was an all-season oasis in the midst of a development frenzy that today is distinguished by a bulldozed barrenness, sealed with asphalt and blighted by a banausic array of strip malls, fast-food restaurants and convenience store/gas stations.

The grove was razed. One week tall trees, the next a muddy scar. Clear cut and scraped away. A few trees were salvaged for firewood, but most were trucked out or open burned. It happened about the time Fargo was feted—again—as "Tree City USA" by the National Arbor Day Foundation. How's that for irony? The award ceremony should have been at "Prairie Grove." A memorial ceremony, or better yet, a wake.

The 'dozer crowd opines it's too expensive to build around trees. What a crock. It can be done. It has been done, not far from where "Prairie Grove's" prairie grove was annihilated.

When Great Plains Software (now Microsoft) relocated along Interstate 29, the site plan minimized damage to shelterbelts and individual trees on the former farmstead. Native trees were preserved, cared for, replaced when they died; and now the trees enhance functional buildings. Of course it can be done. All it takes is clear-cutting the rapaciousness factor out of the development equation. Not gonna happen. Not here in "Tree City USA."

Zaleski retired in 2017 after 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. Contact him at or (701) 241-5521.