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Cruising down theYellowstone Trail

Group formed to promote area along historic route

By Scott Thoma

The initial board of the Yellowstone Trail Alliance of Western Minnesota met in Buffalo Lake in 2018. Left to right: Mark Glesener (Bird Island), Mary Gillespie (Granite Falls), Jennifer Disbrow (YMC Historical Society), Sonja Thune (Sacred Heart), Patrick Moore (Montevideo), Patricia Buschette (Renville), Dick Hagen (Olivia), Al Koenig (Buffalo Lake), Scott Tedrick (Granite Falls) Doug Olinger (Bird Island), Olga Nichols (Lake Lillian), Brad Koenig (Buffalo Lake) and Nancy Standfuss (Danube). Not pictured: Lance Sorenson (Hector), Jess Gorman (Renville) and Nicole Elzenga (Renville County Historical Society). Contributed photo

Three years ago, while driving east along U.S. Highway 12 from Granite Falls to Olivia, a century-old similarity hit Scott Tedrick like a ton of bricks.

Well, actually it was a rock that rolled off a beet truck and hit the windshield of his vehicle.

What Tedrick realized at that moment was that he was driving the Yellowstone Trail that was made possible by Michael J. Dowling in 1917.

Dowling was the owner/editor of the former Renville Star Farmer newspaper, which is now called the Renville County Register, with Tedrick serving as editor.

A map of the Minnesota communities along the Yellowstone Trail. Contributed

But the similarities don’t end there. Dowling lived in Granite Falls, where Tedrick currently resides. And Dowling was president of the National Yellowstone Trail from 1917-1920, while Tedrick has been President of the Yellowstone Trail Alliance of Western Minnesota from 2017-2020.

But what about the rock falling off the beet truck?

Well, Dowling was also responsible for introducing sugar beets to western Minnesota; now a very popular crop.

“I remember that day driving to work,” Tedrick said. “After that rock hit my windshield I realized that I was driving on the same trail that Dowling had helped to get built, I was driving to work for the same paper he worked and his importance to sugar beets in this region.”

That’s about the time Tedrick decided to form the Western Alliance to the Yellowstone Trail with the purpose not only of promoting the many Minnesota communities along the trail that runs 107 miles from Ortonville to Buffalo Lake, but also because of Dowling and the part he played in the trail.

And one other piece of irony is Dowling was born in Huntington, Massachusetts. Tedrick lived in Andover, Massachusetts for five years. The two cities are only 120 miles apart.

The National Yellowstone Trail runs the length of the United States east to west from Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts to Puget Sound, Washington, which includes the southern portion of Minnesota running west to east from Ortonville to the Twin Cities.

Alliance of Western Minnesota

A highway sign marking the Yellowstone Trail

The Yellowstone Trail Alliance of Western Minnesota was officially launched in August 2018 as an organization to promote the cultural and historic assets of eight communities along U.S. Highway 212 of the Yellowstone Trail; Granite Falls, Sacred Heart, Danube, Renville, Olivia, Bird Island, Hector and Buffalo Lake.

“We wanted to work together with interested people to promote these communities as places to visit along the trail,” said Tedrick. “That’s what the Yellowstone Trail was originally designed for.”

In 2019, the Yellowstone Trail Alliance of Western Minnesota organization incorporated several additional communities along the Yellowstone Trail that spans west to Ortonville on the Minnesota/South Dakota border.

Tedrick currently serves as president of the YTAWM. Mark Glesener is the vice president, Nancy Standfuss is the secretary and Nicole Elzenga is the treasurer.

“There are so many sites to see and things to do along the entire trail,” said Tedrick. “And we think there are a lot of those sites along the Alliance of Western Minnesota portion of the trail, too.”

Tedrick pointed out some of those interesting and historic places such as the largest corn monument which is in Olivia, the world class World War II Museum in Granite Falls, the historic Milwaukee Road Heritage Center in Montevideo and much more.

Granite Falls is the geographical center of the 3,600-mile long Yellowstone Trail.

Dowling’s part

Michael J. Dowling was the first president of the Yellowstone Trail, having served from 1917-1920. He is a former resident of three of the communities along the trail’s Alliance of Western Minnesota; Granite Falls, Renville and Olivia.

Dowling’s life achievements are remarkable for any man. But his accomplishments are magnified when you consider that in 1880 at age 14, Dowling nearly froze to death when caught in a blizzard and had to have both legs, one arm and all the fingers of his other hand amputated.

Despite his disabilities, Dowling forged ahead and became a prominent teacher, mayor, Justice of the Peace, auto salesman, owner of a newspaper and a bank, and an inspirational speaker for disabled World War I veterans. He also became Speaker of the Minnesota Legislature and a congressional and gubernatorial candidate.

Scott Tedrick, left, the president of the Yellowstone Trail Alliance of Western Minnesota, explains the Yellowstone Trail to an interested visitor during a regional event in 2018 at Prairie’s Edge Casino in Granite Falls. Contributed photo

In 1913, Dowling led a small motorcade that blazed the Yellowstone Trail from St. Paul to Yellowstone Park. Soon after that, he completed the eastern portion of the trail from Buffalo, New York, to Plymouth Rock.

At the time of completion, many people were calling his efforts the best organized road association in the United States.

Dowling later wrote a book called We Blazed the Trail. In it, he predicted that one day the Yellowstone Trail would bring a “Golden Stream” of tourism to all the communities along its route.

“This trail really holds special meaning to me and all the others in our Alliance of Western Minnesota,” said Tedrick. “Our group wants to do what we can to see Dowling’s dream continue and the communities along the trail prosper.”

Dowling died on April 25, 1921 at age 55. He is buried in Olivia.

Trail beginnings

The Yellowstone Trail is the first transcontinental vehicle route through the northern tier of states. In 1912, it was initiated by a conference of businessmen in Ipswich, S.D., under the leadership of Joseph Parmley. That group’s vision was to construct a better 26-mile stretch of road between Ipswich and Aberdeen.

With little government assistance for the roads, private trail groups like the Yellowstone Trail Association developed the roads between communities.

By the early 1930s, the Depression and aggressive state and federal government efforts to assume road building and route marking responsibility caused the YTA to dissipate.

In the late 1990s, the Yellowstone Trail got a boost from interested historians and tourism representatives educating others about its significance, tourism potential and entertainment value to be found along the route.

Join the Western Alliance

Currently, there are around 20 members in the Yellowstone Trail Alliance of Western Minnesota. The group holds monthly meetings; many via Zoom due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A 1919 map of the Yellowstone Trail. Contributed image

The organization is open to anyone who wishes to join.

“Our group is stepping up to take the Yellowstone Trail to a higher level,” Tedrick explained. “We want as many people as possible to experience what we have to offer.”

Email for more information or if you are interested in joining.

Sociability Run

The Yellowstone Trail Alliance of Western Minnesota is attempting to stay active amidst the pandemic and is holding a Sociability Run Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 12-13.

The Sociability Run will be held within the 15 Yellowstone Trail Alliance of Western Minnesota communities from Ortonville to Buffalo Lake.

Those participating in the Sociability Run can drive antique cars to represent yesteryear, although all types of vehicles are welcome. Drivers have the option to start at either end (Buffalo Lake or Ortonville) with a destination on Saturday in Granite Falls.

Registration is $10 and includes a map/brochure, dash plaque and other information about stops along the route. Visit their website at for more information.

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