Letter: We should't be shy about showing off the 'Rebel River'

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We need to re-think the importance of the Red River. It is not a meandering stream. It is not a joke. It is not just another river.

The only time we seem to really take the Red River seriously is when we are discussing flood control or fighting the river at flood time. Too often we forget that when the Red River floods, it is also struggling and trying to hold its own.

Just mention any major American city and a symbol inevitably comes to mind. For New York City, there’s Times Square. St. Louis has the Arch. San Francisco is famous for the Golden Gate Bridge. San Antonio enshrines the Alamo. But that Texas city also has the “River Walk,” a place where San Antonio proudly celebrates its colorful and vibrant heritage.

Fargo seems reluctant to celebrate the history and uniqueness of the nearby Red River. There is not even an eye-catching sign or monument that calls attention to the river’s ancient predecessor—Lake Agassiz. That lake once was larger than all of the Great Lakes combined. (Imagine!)

Today, as one drives along the Red River on Second Street North in downtown Fargo, one hardly can see the river, as we did in years past. Instead, there is a rather plain-looking floodwall. We have traded scenery for security. Sure, the floodwall is necessary. But why no murals or mosaics on the west side of the wall that celebrate the river’s natural beauty and rich cultural heritage—with images of bison, eagles, Native Americans, voyageurs, riverboats, kayakers, and children at play?


Why not a sculpture of an early Metis trading family and their Red River ox cart, with a long, long string of oxen? The sheer potential for celebrative and relevant art is staggering.

And how about an all-year Red River marketplace that is located downtown and near the river? The actual market could be held outdoors from May to October and indoors from November through April. Imagine a daily marketplace with fresh produce, flowers, food stands, baked goods, handicrafts, demonstrations, performances, live music? If done right, a huge Red River marketplace could be “the place to go”—for visitors and tourists, as well as locals.

Fargo is the largest American city that is located on the Red River of the North. This makes us truly unique. Winnipeg, our Canadian neighbor, knows how to showcase the Red River. Just visit “The Forks” and see how it can be done.

We in Fargo often seem hesitant to really celebrate our river and our city. Maybe we don’t want to look like we are “showing off.” But sometimes, humility is its own form of pride.

The Red River is no ordinary river. It is a “rebel river” that bucks the trend by flowing north. Most other American rivers simply flow south toward the sea.

Maybe it’s time we follow the Red River’s splendid example by defying the norm. And in so doing, we can chart our own course and go our own way.

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