Inaugural Leap to Lane Festival celebrates history of small town
For Donna Gray, seeing the energy in the small town on Saturday harkened back to the late 1960s when people from larger surrounding area towns like Wessington Springs and Woonsocket would flock to Lane for a weekend to remember.
LANE — For the first time in about 50 years, Lane, South Dakota, looked like the small party town it once was on Saturday evening.
The little town of about 59 people that sits about 40 miles north of Mitchell off the beaten path was full of energy on Saturday, as the inaugural Leap to Lane Festival had attendees playing cornhole, dancing to live music, scoping out classic hot rods and enjoying beers. For former Lane High School students, the event was especially significant.
After all, the idea behind the creation of the first annual Leap to Lane Festival partly centered around celebrating an all-school reunion for former Lane High School graduates.
“I’ve seen people today who I haven’t seen in many years, and it’s so great to reconnect with them all,” said Kathy Brandenburg, who graduated from Lane High School in 1958.
Brandenburg said seeing her former classmates Saturday afternoon brought back some “great memories.” Although Lane High School closed its doors for good in 1971, the fond memories made by the students who used to walk the halls and play basketball games in the old gymnasium remain.
For Donna Gray, seeing the energy in the small town on Saturday harkened back to the late 1960s when people from larger surrounding area towns like Wessington Springs and Woonsocket would flock to Lane for a weekend to remember. From taking in live music shows on Main Street to the weekends of fun she and former classmates would have in Lane, the small town is the source of many fond memories.
“It’s just so awesome to see the town look like it used to for a day,” Gray said, who grew up on Lane and went to school in the town until the high school closed in 1971 when she was a freshman.
While the first annual Leap to Lane Festival was all about having fun, there was a good cause behind the event: to revive the town of Lane. For the past several years, Loree Gaikowski, who lives a few miles from Lane, has been trying to help rebuild the community.
In its prime, Lane’s population grew to over 300 at one point when the railroad lines were still actively going through the town. But after the portion of the railroad that went through Lane closed down decades ago, Lane began to dwindle in population. Shortly after the railroad closure, a devastating fire wreaked havoc on the few buildings that were in the heart of the community, leading to a steeper drop in population.
Gaikowski is determined to reverse the downward population trend, and the Leap to Lane Festival was one way she hoped to show people in the area that Lane is “still kicking” and worth investing in. Judging by the strong turnout of Saturday’s inaugural festival, which brought around 150 people, Gaikowski said it was a great turnout.
“With small towns, you can’t be on maintenance mode. You have to constantly be working at trying to rebuild. The people who still reside here love this town, and if you talk to people from all over the state, they likely know where Lane is from the happening town it was back in the day,” said Gaikowski, who is a leader at the Wessington Springs Area Chamber of Commerce. “It is amazing to see this support for the first festival.”
Although Gaikowski grew up in Wessington Springs and graduated from high school there, the town of Lane has a special place in her heart. As one of the Leap to Lane Festival organizers, Gaikowski set up a silent auction, chili cook-off and cornhole tournament to raise money for the rebuild of Lane. Proceeds from the event will go toward the goal of repairing buildings and redeveloping the town.
“There are some great opportunities for people to build and move here,” she said, noting the close proximity of Mitchell, Huron and Wessington Springs as an advantage the town has for attracting people who are interested in living in a more quiet, safe community.
As former Lane High School Trojans spent their Saturday reminiscing about the good old days while taking in live music and cornhole, it brought more inspiration for Gaikowski’s mission to grow Lane into the happening little town it once was.
“People need to know Lane is still kicking, and we’re trying to keep it kicking to see it grow again,” she said, hinting there are plans to make the Leap to Lane Festival an annual occurrence.