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Enchanting tourists on the road -- and now with a place to stay

Gary Greff stands in the fitness room, which was once the storage room above locker rooms, in the Enchanted Castle hotel in Regent, N.D.1 / 3
The Enchanted Castle's hotel rooms -- 19 of them -- are all converted classrooms of the old Regent, N.D., high school. (Press Photo by Katherine Lymn)2 / 3
A miniature knight will greet guests in the lobby of the the Enchanted Castle. (Katherine Lymn/Dickinson Press)3 / 3

REGENT -- For Gary Greff, creating seven giant metal sculptures along the Enchanted Highway wasn’t enough.

Two years ago, he opened the Enchanted Castle hotel, a 19-room converted high school, as a place for people to stay at the end of their 32-mile drive south off Interstate 94.

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“We want it to look like a castle,” he said.

And it does -- from the tin soldiers that greet you throughout the hallways to the clad-iron chandelier in the tavern -- Greff and designer Rick Routh have transformed a high school built in 1959 into a castle, with some charming relics of the building’s school days. The gym, for example, remains, and serves as an event center for weddings, family reunions or just for kids to run around.

Greff’s larger goal, as it has been for more than two decades, is to make Regent a destination.

“We gotta somehow become a destination, and to make Regent a destination we gotta do something,” Greff said.

He said numbers show 10,000 to 12,000 people drive the Enchanted Highway a year, and only half are local. The visitors just need a reason to stay.

“That’s why I wanted this hotel to be unique,” he said. “They look at it and they go, ‘Oh wow, this is in Regent, North Dakota?’ ”

Greff said the hotel helps create revenue for the Enchanted Highway, which requires maintenance such as landscaping.

Plus, he’s still working on more sculptures. He has spent 24 years on the sculptures -- “Teddy Rides Again,” “Pheasants on the Prairies” and “Fisherman’s Dream” among them -- and said he has four more to build. He plans to take five years on each.

Greff said he’s also looking to build more sculptures all the way to the hotel to “walk you in,” and that he wants to put more signs up for the hotel along the highway.

On the hospitality side, Greff wants to convert the elementary school next to the Enchanted Castle into another attraction -- maybe with dinner theater. He said he’s talked to Dickinson State University about using its theater program to provide entertainment.

The elementary school is a building that easily could be renovated to fit the “enchanted” theme. Built in 1909, it is made of brick and has the charming look of an older schoolhouse.

The elementary school could have a mini-mall with businesses like a hair stylist and gift shop, he said.

Greff is also contemplating adding an RV park adjacent to the hotel.

Creating a castle

In the renovation, workers knocked out lockers to widen the main corridor, and the classrooms became 19 hotel rooms.

Josh Greff, Gary’s nephew, helped with the renovation and said that while it was hard to envision the old high school becoming a castle, in the end, it turned out better than he thought.

Seventeen of the rooms are the standard, with two queen beds. Then there are the King and Queen suites, each with a hot tub in the room.

Routh said he took the visions of Greff and Greff’s sister, and made them reality.

Routh came from Idaho looking for work and has found a continuing job at the hotel in maintenance and upgrades.

The hotel was quiet during a January visit, but Greff said it’s a slow season.

He doesn’t see oil workers there much. Visitors are more often people who “happen to hear about it.”

The hotel has two restaurants. The tavern, which has a dark medieval feel and full bar, has been open for two years. The Excalibur Steakhouse opened in October with a chef from Missouri. The restaurant had a busy opening with pheasant season, Greff said. Now, he’s working on getting the word out.