North Dakota’s nickname is the Peace Garden State; it was even put on license plates back in 1956.

The name stems from a 90-year-old entity: the International Peace Garden.

It’s a unique concept, having a shared space in both the U.S. and Canada. But a place that usually thrives in the summer wasn’t able to these past two years due to the pandemic.

We explored this in part two of our three-part special series, Business Along the Border.

While most parks and gardens did particularly well amid the pandemic, that wasn’t the case up along the U.S.-Canada border.

The International Peace Garden had about 35,000 visitors in 2019, which is average. In 2020 — the year the coronavirus swept the nation and the world — the Peace Garden saw a 70 percent drop in visitors.

“The pandemic impact was really difficult for us,” said International Peace Garden CEO Tim Chapman.

2021 had about a 20 percent increase from the year before.

Peak season is Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend, and the Peace Garden is hopeful that visitation will finally get back to normal this year.

“We’re really looking forward to the 2022 season because it was a big impact; we lost a lot of revenue, a lot of visitors and no one wants to see that,” Chapman added.

The International Peace Garden was founded back in 1932 based on the principles of peace, friendship and cooperation between two countries, so the ability to have international guests is a huge part of fulfilling its mission.

The flags illustrate that one side is Canada, and on the other side is the United States. But it’s not the divide that’s focused on here. It’s the two countries coming together that is the whole mission behind the International Peace Garden.

As you can imagine, travel restrictions hinder that mission.

Visitors can freely enter the Peace Garden, but it’s when they leave that they’re required to go through U.S. or Canadian customs, as they return to their respective countries.

In March of 2020, non-essential travel wasn’t allowed.

“When the pandemic started and they did the non-essential shutdown, we dropped down to about 15 cars per day,” said Patrick O’Hara, with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

That compares to a pre-pandemic average of 200 cars a day at the Dunseith border crossing.

O’Hara says during the summer, that number could reach 1,000 on the weekends. These past two years, that wasn’t possible.

Canadian restrictions lifted a bit back in January and have continued to — but travel hasn’t ramped up to what it once was, and O’Hara says it’s hard to guess if this summer will be the same as it used to be.

“Are we prepared for it? Absolutely we are. But will it happen? I don’t know,” he added.

Still, the Peace Garden awaits its international travelers to come to its 2,400 acres, where they can see the span of 80,000 flowers — some of which are in Dunseith, North Dakota, and some in Boissevain, Manitoba.

“It’s all about bringing Americans, Canadians and people from all over the world together to celebrate the ideals of peace and cooperation and how through those discussions and bringing people to a more natural setting, can really foster greater dialogue around peace,” Chapman said.

With two years of business hardship in the past, Chapman looks to the future.

A new kids-play area will soon be completed and so will a brand new conservatory that’s double the size of the old one and will be open year-round.

“We’ve been conservative with what we’ve budgeted and what we’re projecting but at the same time wouldn’t be surprised if it exceeded 2019 numbers, not only as the pandemic hopefully is getting close to behind us, but we also have our 90th anniversary this year, so a lot of excitement is going around that,” said Chapman.

Whether it’s two or 200 visitors a day, there’s enough beauty on both sides of the border to make up for lost time.

The International Peace Garden is a non-profit. North Dakota and Manitoba provide annual operating grants, but the visitation and generosity of visitors are what really keep it going and growing.