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Watertown: Small but Mighty in South Dakota

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Step into the Watertown Regional Airport’s new $10 million terminal, and it’s likely you’ll catch a whiff of award-winning Dempsey’s pizza that’s being baked at the local restaurant’s new airport location. 

The aroma and bright terminal make for a pleasing welcome to Watertown, a town of 22,000 located 90 minutes north of Sioux Falls on I-29. Flights from Denver and Chicago arrive each day, and there’s hope air service will expand even more because of the new, larger terminal. 

Improved air transportation is one hint that Watertown is a progressive place. Another is the $5 million renovation of downtown’s 1889 Goss Opera House. Reopened in 2020 after being idle 70 years, the Goss is a glittering performing arts center as well as a dazzling events space. The Reliabank Theater has the latest in sound and lighting and an open floor plan for 275 at rounds or 500 theater-style. There are also small meeting spaces, including suites furnished with couches and chairs for brainstorming or enjoying downtown views.

Downtown is definitely worth a wander. Among the highlights is ArtWalk, a display of 15 to 20 sculptures along city streets. The sculptures are changed each May. Pelican Lake and Lake Kampeska flanking the city, drawing fishermen and boaters.  

Ramkota serves as headquarters

The 101-room Ramkota Hotel, attached to the 32,000-square-foot Watertown Event Center, is the logical headquarters hotel for larger conferences, such as the Red Angus Association of America, which met there recently. Visit Watertown helps coordinate transportation from the city’s other 700 hotel rooms, most located within a few minutes’ drive of the Ramkota.

Creative and quirky

Venues like Joy Ranch and Redlin Art Center are places that tell Watertown’s story in different ways.

The 125-acre Joy Ranch has long focused on using equine therapy to help people who are troubled. It is also a popular meeting site, largely because its 1880 replica Old West town provides many possibilities, from a 250-person dining hall, where boots and saddles hang overhead, to 16 guest rooms with Western themes. Even the Old West town’s main street is an event option; South Dakota’s governor was a guest at an open-air dinner there. Guests can also fish or swim in the lake, walk winding trails, take horse-drawn wagon rides or, on cool evenings, gather around one of 13 fireplaces in the Western town.

Since the Redlin Art Center opened in 1997, with free admission always, more than 2 million people have admired 150 original paintings by the late Terry Redlin, who grew up in Watertown and became a favorite for his wildlife pieces and works depicting Midwestern life. The center’s 30-acre conservation park, a nod to Terry’s love of nature, has at its heart an octagonal pavilion enlivened with Redlin’s art, lighted by ample windows. It’s a favorite for events of up to 250 and a perfect place to appreciate Watertown’s natural side.