If you’d asked us the location of the geographic center of our nation before we went to South Dakota, we might have answered Kansas or Missouri, maybe even Iowa or Nebraska. But we’d be wrong. The official Geographic Center of the Nation is in Belle Fourche , South Dakota. It really is!
The center of the nation, however, wasn’t always there. According to “In the Middle of Nowhere, a Nation’s Center” published in the New York Times on June 2, 2008, the center of our nation had “bounced around the heartland like the ball on an old movie-screen singalong.” Prior to Alaska joining the Union the center was Lebanon, Kansas. (See, we were right with our assumption after all.) But when the U. S. took in Alaska, the center moved to prairie land in Butte County, South Dakota. And then when Hawaii became a state, the National Geodedic Survey announced that the center had moved again — about 21 miles above to Belle Fourche, SD — where it remains today.
In October 1959, folks gathered to commemorate the spot, that was, at first, pretty inconspicuous — a rest area, a 40-foot flagpole, and some “Center of the Nation” signs that disappeared on a regular basis. But in 1999, Teresa Schanzenbach, president of the Belle Fourche Chamber of Commerce, spearheaded numerous efforts (fundraising mostly) to mark the spot in a dignified way with a massive map of the U. S. on a compass rose, made of 54,000 pounds of South Dakota granite. (After all, the Geographical Center of North America in Rugby, ND has a 15-foot stone obelisk to mark the spot — and you know about competition among the states for bragging rights.)
So that’s about it, as centers go. Belle Fourche (pronounced bell-foosh) is a good side stop for seeing the Geographic Center of the Nation, especially if you are touring the Black Hills on your way to see Devils Tower in Wyoming, as we were. But there’s more. If you can time your trip just right, you might be lucky enough to catch the Black Hills Roundup that pulls out all the stops with a Cattle Drive, Ranch Rodeo, Parade, Miss Black Hills Roundup, and a whole lot more — ending with fireworks on the Fourth! This year’s 101st Black Hills Roundup is June 28 to July 4, 2020.
How to get there: From Sturgis, Belle Fourche is about a 35-minute drive if you take I-90 W and SD-34 W. And when you arrive, you can stand near the compass rose, have your picture taken among the flags, visit the Tri-State Museum & Visitor Center, and then get you some cowboy gear in downtown Belle Fourche.
If nothing else, you’ll have bragging rights when people ask, “Where is the Geographic Center of the Nation?” Because you’ll know the answer!
Happy road trippin’ —
Rusha & Bert