BISMARCK — Sculptor Gary Greff will have first-time state funding this summer to help maintain his sculptures along the Enchanted Highway in western North Dakota.

"We're going to start fixing what we can, and then I'm going to go as far as I can go with it," Greff said Tuesday, April 7.

North Dakota lawmakers budgeted $75,000 for maintenance of the scrap-metal sculptures along the 32-mile road to Regent off Interstate 94, east of Dickinson.

Greff said he thinks he can stretch the money to stabilize welding at two or three of his seven sculpture sites. Needing most attention is "Fisherman's Dream" and "Geese in Flight."

The latter sculpture was embroiled in an 18-month lawsuit with new landowners who closed the site over liability and questioned Greff's lease. They settled out of court this spring as Greff bought the site and plans to reopen it once paperwork is completed, perhaps this month.

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Lawmakers' conference committee on the new two-year budget for the state Department of Commerce whittled down the funding proposed for the sculptures' maintenance from $250,000 in a matching grant to the standalone $75,000, which ultimately passed in the budget Gov. Doug Burgum signed last week.

Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, carried the budget in the House. He said lawmakers thought it would be difficult for Greff to raise $250,000 to match the state's grant, while they also felt more comfortable with a smaller amount for the repair and maintenance.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, previously said the Enchanted Highway has been a major tourism draw for North Dakota, but needing upkeep due to the sculptures' wear and tear.

Greff said he's unsure if he may ask lawmakers in the 2021 legislative session for future funding. Nathe said he hopes the money is one-time funding.

Greff began the Enchanted Highway in 1989 as a way to revive his hometown of Regent, welding scrap-metal into the elaborate sculptures that include geese, fish, grasshoppers, deer, pheasants and other prairie images that have proved to be a popular tourist attraction.

- Jack Dura, Bismarck Tribune