The explosion of Beulah…
Throughout the history of North Dakota, the community of Beulah is one of a number of short-term oddities. In the early 1980s, the population exploded, and the Mercer County community grew by 500 percent. So imagine that, a sleepy little community of 1,300 in 1980 finds itself with 7,800 people by the end of 1983. Now that’s larger than Devils Lake and Valley City and almost as big as Wahpeton.
How did it happen? The building of power plants is what fueled such rapid growth. The Antelope Valley Station was built seven miles north of Beulah, and the Coyote Station was built a couple of miles south of town. Both of those major construction projects brought thousands of workers to Beulah, Hazen, Zap, Stanton, Center and even Mandan. Most of them, of course, were living in apartments or makeshift barracks in and around Beulah. That changed the whole dynamic of that little town for many years. There were also mobile home parks that were popping up like mushrooms all across town. The same was happening in Hazen, but at least in Hazen, it seemed more structured.
The first problem was in the crime rate. Before the construction boom, Beulah was like any other little town: an occasional DUI, a car accident, somebody shoplifts from the local convenience store. When the boom was in full swing- there were shootings, sexual assaults, major drug busts, bank robberies and somebody was stealing grain from farms, if you can believe that. By the end of 1983, the crime rate in Beulah was equivalent to that of the state’s largest city, Fargo.
Also, during that three-year period, a lot of transients found themselves in Beulah and Hazen because that’s where it was at. Whether it was drug or human trafficking, they were showing up in Mercer County, and it kept law enforcement busy and continually expanding. Law enforcement had its hands full and that included the Beulah Police Department, the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department and, to a lesser extent, the North Dakota Highway Patrol.
The other downside of this population explosion was inflation. The inflation of normal consumer items got so bad, some people had to move away so they could afford to live. It was those people who were working shifts in convenience or liquor stores, those who were in retail downtown, janitors, CNAs at the hospital and nursing homes; their wages never went up, and inflation was out of control. It was set to counteract the good wages the construction workers got, but in the end, it only hurt those who had always been in Beulah.
It was heart wrenching to see that kind of greed in North Dakota, especially in a “little” town in the middle of the state. It was as if the entire community was being destroyed in front of our eyes in slow motion. It even pushed the local school up to the Class A ranks, and every time a Beulah team would play, they got clobbered because they really didn’t belong in a higher class. The population increase in the school was temporary- everybody knew it- yet the North Dakota High School Activities Association insisted the Beulah Miners play in the Class A ranks. It really wasn’t fair to the kids in those sports.
But then, nothing was fair in Beulah in those three years. Nor was it fair in the surrounding communities, and Zap was a good example. Some 14 miles west of Beulah, there were plenty of workers who converged on Zap because they wanted to make a lot of money building the plants but live as cheaply as they could. So they found any place they could in Zap, and although the bars and restaurants were making money from the increased traffic, law enforcement was kept busy in Zap, too. It wasn’t quite like 1969 when Zip to Zap happened, but it wasn’t pretty for a small town of less than 500 people.
You have to give credit, though, to Beulah’s leadership at the time. They knew population and inflation were out of control, but they did everything in their power to build Beulah as best they could. Examples of that include a new residential area, a city park expansion, and golf course renovation. Main Street couldn’t expand so new businesses often built on the north side of town, close to N.D. Highway 200 at the intersection of N.D. Highway 49. That’s where most of the traffic was located.