Many small towns in KELOLAND are drying up as kids go away to college and don't move back. That's forced many businesses to close their doors. But one small town may have found its saving grace by turning an eye sore into a first class resort.
You’d be surprised to know that there are a few building in Deuel County that have been standing for about 100 years. One building started out as a courthouse, but when the county seat moved to Clear Lake, the state used the building to offer education to the visually impaired.
"Right up until the late 60's, it was the school for the blind and at that point there was a lot of safety issues and those type of concerns and to move the school more centralized in the state," Developer Joe Kolbach said.
Not letting it sit empty, the campus became a retirement home. But high maintenance costs closed those doors a few years later.
That left the facility empty for nearly 40 years. And that’s when Kolbach stepped in.
"It kept falling behind and people couldn't figure out a way to come up with the funding to do something with it and it was always a passion of mine to see what we do with something like this," Kolbach said.
But they didn't just buy the property and do whatever they wanted with it. The community was kept in mind from the very beginning.
"The trees were frosty. Boarded up the windows and put a temporary furnace in there, got everybody in the ball room and just kind of put a think tank together about what the community would like to see," Kolbach said.
The end product was a 19 room luxury hotel, a campground with 29 spacious spots, a bar and grill, and even a stream to catch a trout or two.
“The facility itself is remarkable," Jerry Jaegar said.
Jaeger, his wife, and their co-pilot have been making an annual trip to Buffalo Ridge Resort for the past several years.
"We just kind of found this place accidentally. Somebody had told us onetime that there's a beautiful campground and the old School for the Blind has been restored down at Gary,” Jaeger said. “So we thought that's not very far away from us, we'll just go down and take a look and we came down here and took a look and were just amazed."
And their trips have expanded to more than just for relaxation.
"Our oldest granddaughter got married and we had a marriage on Saturday evening, we had family here, the campground was filled, the hotel was filled, Patsy Cline was here, and we just had a great, great time," Jaeger said.
In fact, hosting weddings is one of the main features of the resort. They have already seated some 450 people at one time, which is a considerable amount for the town of around 200.
"The ability to have a resort like this in a small town, it truly is a hidden gem," General Manager Brad Stevens said.
Stevens made his first trip to Gary last December.
"Driving through town and then you come down this hill and you see this campus and its just like one of those "Ah-Ha" moments,” Stevens said. “This place is just incredible."
And it’s that experience that he wants everyone to have.
"Some of those larger markets, it loses something compared to what we have to offer here and that's the beauty of this place is the people and the charm," Stevens said.
But Kolbach says you can't give the small town experience without the small town.
"The majority of people, from the city council to our economic development, want the right things to happen and everybody gets on board with it. Life is full of challenges sometimes and you work through and most of the time you get the community to support that," Kolbach said.
Kolbach says its that support that keeps a rural South Dakota town like Gary from blowing away.
"It's really the people in the community that make it or break it," Kolbach said.
"All of the people in Gary ought to be very proud of what the owner and the management have done with this place. It's just a nice homey feeling to be here," Jaeger said.
In addition, the resort also has conference rooms ready to book for business meetings or retreats.
Visit the Buffalo Ridge Resort website for more information on making a reservation, its services and more.