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Kolpack: The state of ND vs. the Ellendale Country Club

Small-town golf course at odds with North Dakota transportation department over right-of-way plat

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A concrete slab for a pickleball court at the Ellendale Country Club sits between a couple of trees and Highway 281 south of Ellendale, N.D.
Submitted photo
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Fargo

The voice on the other end of the phone was filled with frustration, that much was obvious. Doug Burkhardt seemed to be at the end of his rope in defending his home course, the Ellendale Country Club, located south of the small town of Ellendale, N.D.

Like a lot of 9-hole tracks in this state, the place is run mostly out of love of the game and countless volunteer hours, mostly from its board of directors. It’s not really a country club, of course, in the Fargo and Moorhead sense. A membership isn’t required.

The Fargo Country Club has a head professional, a director of instruction, a head groundskeeper, a general manager, adequate staff and an affiliation with its parent company, Troon Golf LLC, that carries a national brand.

Ellendale has a clubhouse manager and a greenskeeper.

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It’s Americana. The same scene can be seen in countless small towns throughout North Dakota. The long, hard winter that morphs into a messy spring finally comes to an end. Time to get outside and play.

The issue for Ellendale is things are messy over a right-of-way plat between Highway 281 and the golf course. The boundary was approved by North Dakota Department of Transportation “right of way engineer” Duane L. Meiers on Feb. 27, 1962. Yes, 1962.

We are coming up on the 60th anniversary of two large boulders, a portion of a dirt golf cart path and most recently about seven feet of a pickleball court concrete slab being within the right of way boundary, an area that was purchased by the state to build Highway 281. But on Oct. 29, 2021, district engineer Jay Praska wrote the Ellendale Country Club a letter notifying the course of the cart path, boulders and pickleball encroachment violations.

I called Jay about it and he referred me to the NDDOT website and a communications director. I went through the website boundary and the singular line next to the highway looked to be about 30 feet from the highway the entire length of the course. The cart path looked to be in violation, but not the boulders or pickleball court.

But David Finley, assistant communication director, sent me the documents from 1962, which in a couple of areas jags further into the course.

"I never understood that and they never explained it," Burkhardt said.

Is Duane L. Meiers still around? Maybe he would know. I’m no Judge Wapner, but it appears by the letter of the 1962 law, the NDDOT is correct on its interpretation of the right-of-way-plat. Praska in his letter references stakes by a survey crew.

That dirt cart path? Yes, clearly within the NDDOT boundary and it wants the path blocked or removed. On that note, why not block all snowmobile trails in the ditches? Those two big rocks? Yes, probably the same. The pickleball court slab? Close and debatable.

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Moving the cart path to the other side of No. 1 green would require removing a shelter. Moving or removing anything requires money or resources that most small-town courses probably don’t have, or would want to spend.

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A dirt cart path sits between the elevated green of hole No. 1 and Highway 281 at Ellendale Country Club.
Submitted photo

In that regard, I find the state guilty of a couple of other laws: the law of common sense and the law of humanity. Throw in the Golden Rule for that matter.

Do the right thing.

We’re talking about two big rocks, a dirt cart path and a pickleball court here. Not state security concerned about an imminent attack from the state of South Dakota.

Folks in that part of the country get to golf and play pickleball in the summer months. That’s it. I’m guessing finding things to do in Ellendale is not the same as Fargo.

“I’m part of the group that came up with the idea of doing the pickleball court, to generate more traffic and revenue,” Burkhardt said. “I started pricing, took that project on and in July we poured. A couple weeks later, this Praska shows up and says you have to lop seven feet off of that end, it’s too close to the highway.”

Nobody really knows how old the course is; Burkhardt says his parents played it in the 1960s. The boulders and cart path probably went almost 60 years with no issue.

I’m no right-of-way engineer, but if there have been no public issues in 60 years, it would behoove the state to figure out a way to accommodate the small-town course.

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Do the right thing.

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The North Dakota Department of Transportation wants the Ellendale Country Club to move two boulders farther into the course.
Submitted photo
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The red line indicates the right of way boundary plat line between Highway 281 and the Ellendale Country Club south of Ellendale, N.D.
North Dakota Department of Transportation

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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