Yankton’s Last Historic Marne Creek Bridge Faces Demolition

The Pine Street bridge is the last historic structure of its kind to cross Marne Creek, and it is likely to be replaced within the next few years.

Pine Street Bridge July 2016 3

The Pine Street bridge in July 2016. The 1912 structure is the last of its era to cross Marne Creek in Yankton.

Pine Street Bridge July 2016

A very similar bridge along Walnut Street — dating from 1911 — was demolished in 1999. Other historic bridges met their fate earlier, such as the Capital Street bridge.

Built in 1912, the Pine Street bridge is a 41-foot, single-span, deck, concrete arch structure with classical revival detailing that crosses Marne Creek in a residential neighborhood. The railings consist of spindle-shaped balusters set off by concrete posts ornamented with recessed panels.

For several years, The Pine Street bridge has had load limits so restrictive that school buses, snow plows, garbage trucks and even lighter trucks cannot cross the structure. Brosz Engineering of Sioux Falls has studied the bridge for the City of Yankton and deemed it structurally deficient and in need of replacement.


The Pine Street bridge last underwent a major renovation in 1986. This clipping is from the Yankton Press & Dakotan.

Recently, the South Dakota Transportation Commission awarded an $854,904.60 Bridge Improvement Grant to the City of Yankton to be used toward the anticipated $1,424,842 replacement of the Pine Street bridge.

The structure has been on my mind recently because I met with a group of people representing various historic organizations seeking to have a voice in the bridge’s future as part of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit process. They had good questions, reasonable expectations and together represented a passionate voice that has spearheaded many decades worth of preservation efforts within our community. Of course, if possible, they would like to see the bridge renovated. At the very least, they are requesting that the City of Yankton provide acknowledgement of the current bridge’s historic legacy in a new project design.

Because of the condition of the bridge, I am doubtful that renovation is possible. As someone who has a deep appreciation for history and has enjoyed delving into Yankton’s rich past, that’s painful for me to say. However, I am hopeful that we can work some nice features into a new bridge project that are befitting of the current Pine Street crossing. At least a couple of my peers on the Yankton City Commission expressed the same desire during a recent capital improvement project budget session.

We’ll see what the future holds. The City of Yankton plans to seek input from the aforementioned historic groups as the engineering process continues.

All that being said, I thought you might enjoy this excerpt from the Pine Street bridge nomination for the National Register of Historic Places:

By the early 1910s, reinforced concrete came into use in South Dakota for the construction of bridges. The earliest concrete bridges in South Dakota were built in the southeastern portion of the state, and many, if not all of these structures were professionally designed. However, while the construction of steel bridges had been monopolized by out-of-state firms. These same out-of-state steel bridge companies never seemed to monopolize the concrete bridge building market. Instead, many local contractors successfully competed in this aspect of the bridge building business.

In February 1912, the Yankton City Council condemned a deteriorating bridge over Rhine Creek (soon to be renamed Marne Creek) at Pine Street, “declaring the necessity for the construction of a new bridge at said place and directing the Mayor to borrow funds with which to defray the cost of making such improvement.” That same month, the council approved for the site a concrete-arch plan prepared by city engineer Hugh C. Liebe, who had essentially the same design a year earlier at Walnut Street. Two months later, the council awarded a $3,700 construction contract to low bidders Arthur Ellerman and Dan McLain, local contractors who had built the Walnut Street Bridge. Ellerman and McLain completed the project in September 1912.


The Meridian Bridge Is Alive (And Growing As An Attraction)

The Meridian Bridge is alive.

It is growing, evolving — becoming more and more of a gathering place and attraction.

The latest evidence of that was the successful first installment of the City of Yankton’s “Music at the Meridian” series last week.


In the distance, you can see Omaha Street Percussion performing. More importantly, notice all the people gathered in the Meridian Plaza!

As a Yankton City Commissioner and Yankton citizen, I was beaming with pride at the work our Parks and Recreation Department did to bring more than 200 people to the foot of the Meridian Bridge to enjoy music and food, as well as awe at the wonderful natural view. If you didn’t make it to the first concert, plan to attend one of the shows from 6-8 p.m. on Thursdays throughout July.

The bridge has also grown in other small but fascinating ways.

People continue to adorn the bridge with locks of love, a custom that interweaves humanity into the very fabric of the steel and concrete structure and becomes an attraction all its own.

The National Park Service has developed educational displays that provide people with background on the natural and historical elements of the area.

The Yankton Parks and Recreation Department collaborated with the Yankton Community Library (and a variety of sponsors) to create Story Walk, a series of children’s book panels that encourage children and adults to exercise while also enjoying a story.


The new campground on the Nebraska side of the river has also changed the Meridian Bridge experience. While I sometimes miss the serene environment that portion of the walk once represented, I now can also find charm in the human activity that takes place there. People sing songs, enjoy the beach and cook over campfires. These are activities that represent a joyous part of the human experience and, even being on the periphery of those activities, I find the joy contagious.

All of this is a long way of saying how fortunate I feel to have such an amenity in my back yard. The experience of walking the Meridian Bridge and taking in the vistas of the Missouri River never fails to inspire introspection and gratefulness. The act of making that voyage on a regular basis is, I think, a prescription for becoming a better human being. And I’m glad so many people from near and far are partaking in it.

Why I Will Vote In Favor Of Single-Stream Recycling For Yankton

Single-stream recycling could be making its way to Yankton in the next year.
Tomorrow (Monday), the Yankton City Commission will consider whether it wants to direct staff to implement a plan to have single-stream recycling up and running by spring 2017.
singlestreamrecyclingMy intention is to vote in favor of proceeding.
Single-stream recycling is one of the most common requests I hear from people of all ages in our community. And, while I will concede that various studies of recycling have shown that single-stream may not provide all the benefits we would hope for, I believe it will have a net benefit for our community.
1) Many City of Yankton residents I’ve spoken with want the simplicity of single-stream recycling.
2) It will help with community aesthetics, because each City of Yankton residence that is on the solid waste curbside collection list would receive a black 95-gallon garbage roll cart and a red 95-gallon single-stream recycle roll cart. (Black and red equals the Yankton High School colors, which is pretty cool!) Plus, the lids are attached to the carts – so they won’t blow away!
3) Because of the standardized roll carts for garbage and recycling, our collection trucks will be outfitted with automated tippers. Our employees will simply roll the carts up to the tipper, and it will lift and dump the contents. This will reduce the chance of injury to our staff.
4) We are doing our best to keep the added cost of this service to a minimum. For example, we hope that a South Dakota Solid Waste Management Program grant will cover part of the cost of purchasing the new roll carts. At most, we are estimating a $2.54 monthly rate increase. But we may be able to get it as low as $1.52 per month.
5) Some of our neighbors in the state already have single-stream recycling, such as Brookings, Watertown and Pierre. Those services aren’t necessarily the same as what we’re proposing. For example, Pierre residents pay a commercial collector $8 per month for single-stream recycling.
The City of Watertown converted from dual-stream recycling to single-stream recycling between 2012 and 2013. The City’s 2013 single stream recycle collection of 645 tons was 59 percent higher than the dual stream recycle tonnage collected in 2012. Tan 95-gallon recycle carts are available for residents to use.
Here is an excerpt from a July 2015 Brookings Register story about single-stream recycling in that community:

Key to gaining more participants has been the iconic blue recycling bins beside the regular garbage bins [according to Todd Langland, the director of solid waste management at the Brookings Regional Landfill]. The recycling bins were introduced in 2013 and helped the landfill automate the collection process, reducing time and labor requirements. “At that time, before the carts started, we figure we had 65 percent of our residential customers recycling, which is a very good number. The national average right now is anywhere from 45 to 65 as we speak,” Langland said. “We implemented the carts and after one full year on that cart system, we went from 52 tons a month to 68. We saw a big increase and a big increase in participation.”

I happened to blog about the possibility of Brookings being a model for Yankton in 2012. Read here.
Our staff, including City Manager Amy Nelson and Public Works Director Adam Haberman, have put a lot of thought and effort into developing a proposal. In addition, they have gone to great lengths to address the concerns of our partners in the Vermillion/Yankton Joint Powers Solid Waste Management System (through which we not only own and manage a landfill but also currently do our recycling). Granted, Vermillion is still worried about the impact a Yankton move to single-stream recycling could have upon the Joint Powers, as expressed in a recent discussion and resolution. However, they have said they will not prevent us from implementing this new program. I appreciate that and respect their perspective on the matter.
But, when it comes down to it, the more we can recycle, the better. That will almost certainly be the result for Yankton, so let’s do this!
If you’d like to read more about the recycling proposal, click here and scroll to page 99.
If you want to voice your support for or against the proposal, the City Commission meets at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Technical Education Center.

Why I Voted For The North Douglas Avenue Improvement Project

The Yankton City Commission voted to commence with an improvement project on the north end of Douglas Avenue this week.

It’s a decision that has been five or more years in the making.

Here is what the project entails (and more details can be found in this Press & Dakotan article):

Yankton City Manager Amy Nelson said the project is $1.6 million, with $100,800 to be assessed. The project will include rebuilding Douglas Ave. between Anna St. and 31st St. and adding curb, gutter and sidewalks along the stretch of roadway. Currently, the road beyond Anna St. has no sidewalk or shoulder.

Commissioner Charlie Gross opposed the resolution because he believes it sets a bad precedence. I respect his decision, as it is an element of the debate that I struggled with, too.

Ultimately, I came to support the project for the following reasons.

I’m the first to admit that this is not an ideal solution.

It does not adhere to our subdivision ordinance, and some will question the fairness of making an exception.

Instead of a clear black or white — or good or bad — decision, the commission is left with a deafening gray of competing considerations, values and goals. It is in this gray area that I have struggled to find clarity for the last several months, knowing that the time for a decision would arrive.

Questions that come to mind are:

1) Should an exception to our subdivision ordinance be made for these property owners? Are we creating a precedence that we may regret in the long term?

2) If the matter went to court, does the city have the weight of the law on its side?

3) With the development already in place along North Douglas, can we wait — possibly decades — for current or new property owners to change their minds on the matter and put off the installation of curb and gutter, storm sewer and sidewalk improvements?

4) As more development happens to the north, and pedestrian traffic increases, are we putting people at serious risk of injury or death by not having a sidewalk in place along that stretch?

5) Currently, a developer has indicated that it will not build homes on property it owns along North Douglas unless the city carries most of the financial burden of this infrastructure project. With the need for housing in the community now and in the future, is it worth more to Yankton to make this sacrifice in order to gain more homes? Thus, we create new opportunities for those wishing to live in our community while increasing our property tax revenues and, potentially, sales taxes revenues.

These questions and more have swirled around my head and led to many conversations with those who are for moving ahead with this proposal and those who are against it.

But now, as the question is asked, I must come to a decision.

And my decision is yes.

Yes, we need to set aside history and our normal requirements to address this specific circumstance.

Yes, we need to think about the long-term future of our city. Douglas Avenue has been, and will continue to be, a major north-south thoroughfare for our residents. We need the proper infrastructure in place — especially sidewalks — in order to ensure orderly development and improve safety.

Yes, we need to encourage the development of more housing that will contribute to the growth and prosperity of our community.

So while this resolution is not ideal, it is at the very least a compromise by which both the city and the property owners along North Douglas can live.

In the short term, the City Commission and our staff will, perhaps rightly, be questioned about the fairness of this agreement in comparison to what we ask of others in regards to our subdivision ordinance.

But I’m confident that, in the long term, history will judge the agreement favorably as one that made the best of a frustrating situation and did the greatest good for the community.

A Tale Of My Criminal Past (Which Leads To Questions About Yankton’s Juvenile Curfew Law)

BartSimpsonCriminalIt’s difficult for me to admit this, but I feel I must: I have a criminal past.
In June of 1996, I was arrested by the Yankton Police Department and thrown in jail. I was 17 years old.
My crime?
At first, I thought my offense was watching the dumb Hollywood summer blockbuster “Independence Day.”
But I came to learn that my real crime had been violating Yankton’s juvenile curfew — something I, nor my parents, even knew existed until that night.
Here are the facts of the case as I recall them:
A couple friends and I decided to catch the late showing of “Independence Day” at the Carmike Cinema located in the Yankton Mall.
When we came out, we discovered that a couple of other friends had also attended, so we were in the parking lot catching up and discussing the film. I would guess that within 10 minutes of getting out of the movie, a handful of police cars came in the various parking lot entrances at high speed. We were curious as to what major crime had transpired that required such manpower and urgency. Did someone have drugs? Was there a fight?
Soon, an officer approached our group and asked us our ages. We were told we could not leave.
After some time, we were finally informed that we would be going to jail for curfew violation. We were handcuffed and hauled away in a cop car.
I’m not sure how many juveniles were arrested in the mall parking lot that night, but several of us were processed and locked up together in a drunk tank. We were not given the opportunity to call our parents.
Fortunately, one friend in our group was 18 years old. After we were arrested, he went home and his parents contacted the parents of those of us who were in police custody.
It was perhaps three in the morning before my mother was able to get me out of jail.
Our parents attended the eventual court hearing and there were some pleas to the judge that it was ridiculous that kids were being arrested for talking in a parking lot after spending money in the community to watch a movie. There was a meeting with the police chief. There was a letter published in the Press & Dakotan. However, at the end of the day, the judge found us guilty, and we were fined.
For many years, I had a very negative view of law enforcement that stemmed from this experience.
I had been detained, arrested and thrown in jail simply for standing in a parking lot and being under the age of 18. I felt an injustice had been perpetrated.
It was only after I became a journalist and visited regularly with police officers that I got over my jaundiced view of law enforcement.
Yankton still has a “Nocturnal Curfew for Minors” in its ordinances.
It states:
(c) Minors aged fourteen (14) and below. Subject to a reasonable defense, it shall be unlawful for a minor fourteen (14) years of age or younger to be in a traditional public forum or in a private establishment in the city on Sunday through Thursday between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. of the following day and on Friday and Saturday between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. the following day.
(d) Minors aged fifteen (15) and above. Subject to a reasonable defense, it shall be unlawful for a minor fifteen (15) years of age or older to be in a traditional public forum or in a private establishment in the city on Sunday through Thursday between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. of the following day and on Friday and Saturday between the hours of midnight and 6:00 a.m. of the following day.
Reasonable defenses to subsections (c) and (d). The only “reasonable defenses” to a violation of subsection (c) and (d) are:
(1) The minor is accompanied by his or her parent;
(2) The minor is on an emergency errand directed by his or her parent;
(3) The predominant reason for the violation is that the minor is exercising First Amendment rights protected by the United States Constitution, such as freedom of speech, free exercise of religion, and the right of assembly;
(4) The minor is not a resident of Yankton and is in a motor vehicle involved in interstate commerce; or
(5) The minor is traveling directly between his or her dwelling house and a place of employment, church, school, or a function supervised by parents and sponsored by the city, civic organization, or another similar entity that takes responsibility for the minor.
The stated purpose of the ordinance is also included: The Yankton Board of City Commissioners specifically finds that establishment of a nocturnal curfew for minors within the city limits is within the best interests of the city for the following reasons: (1) to reduce the number of juvenile crimes victims; (2) to reduce accidents involving juveniles; (3) to reduce additional time for officers in the field; (4) to reduce juvenile peer pressure to stay out late; and (5) to assist parents in control of their children.
Studies of juvenile curfew laws provide inconclusive evidence of their effectiveness. Some have found that they lower crime rates, while others have shown no impact.
In Yankton, there were 30 curfew arrests in 2014, and 53 in 2013. There were 239 total juvenile arrests in Yankton during 2014 and 227 in 2013.
I’ll lay my cards out on the table: I have a serious problem with criminalizing all of our youth between certain hours of the day. If they are engaged in vandalism, stealing, an assault, etc., arrest them for a crime. But what good comes of arresting a 16-year-old because he or she is walking in the park or talking with friends following a movie after 11 p.m. — as I know from experience does happen.
Nationally, most of the crimes perpetrated by school-aged youth are committed in the three hours following the school day, so it seems to me that is where our efforts would be better placed. This may involve a community-oriented policing component that isn’t currently in place, but I think community investment in the proposed expansion of the Yankton’s Boys’ and Girls’ Club would be one of the most logical answers if we feel there is a juvenile crime problem during the after-school hours.
Do parents in Yankton depend on the municipal curfew to enforce their own curfews at home? Do you feel it impacts juvenile crime? Did you even know there is a juvenile curfew in Yankton?

I’d be interested in hearing thoughts on this subject. Is the curfew something that the Yankton City Commission should explore with community members and law enforcement to determine whether it is necessary? Are there alternative measures that could be used that don’t cast such a wide net and criminalize all of our youth?
The 17-year-old in me won’t leave me alone until I address this subject with the community. I hope he isn’t being unreasonable.

What Is Your Vision For Yankton?

What is your vision for Yankton?

I was recently reading about Dubuque, Iowa, which is considerably larger than Yankton but offers us a good example of how to develop a community vision.

Dubuque Iowa

A photo of Dubuque, Iowa.


In 2005, the Dubuque mayor stated, “The next five years will define the next 50 for Dubuque.” This kicked off a massive visioning process for the community that sought big ideas with broad acceptance that would have a long-term, positive impact on the growth and quality of life of the greater Dubuque community.

Read more about that process here.

I think Yankton needs to do the same thing.

We all need to come together, invest our talents and create a cohesive community vision for the long-term future.

We need to think big.

When I talk to people in the community, I sense a hunger to do big things because of a belief in the potential of Yankton to be more than it is right now.

Look at the small European island of Guernsey. A group there has set the goal of making it the best place to live in the world by 2020. Yes, you read that right.

It might sound crazy, but it’s also really inspiring. Similarly, we need to have the confidence to set big goals for Yankton. If we don’t believe in ourselves, no one else will, either.

Included in my personal vision of Yankton would be downtown and riverfront development; more public art, architecture, trails and other quality of life improvements; higher wages; and a community-wide focus on health and happiness that would have buy-in from all community members.

I don’t want to be a community where people ask, “Why don’t we have that?” I want to be a community where people ask, “How in the world did we get that?”

Let’s use the next five years to define the next 50 for Yankton and make ourselves and future residents proud.

Have ideas? Let’s talk about them on the Nathan For Yankton Facebook page.

“The River’s Divide”: Yankton Native Discusses New Documentary

In today’s Press & Dakotan, I wrote a story on 2006 Yankton High School graduate Kyle Nickolite and the release of his film, “The River’s Divide.” The story can be read here. Also of note is that Yankton native Ross Wuestewald and his band Onward, Etc., composed the soundtrack for the film.

Here is the trailer for “The River’s Divide”:

I’ve included my interview with Nickolite below for those who are interested in learning more about his work.

How did you get into adventure film editing and directing? Were you ever interested in/have you done other genres?

I never had a plan of getting into adventure film-making or the outdoor media world – it just sort of happened. I took a job in college editing for a local outdoor hunting & fishing show – “Gary Howey’s Outdoorsmen Adventures” – I took that job because editing is what I love to do and an opening was available for that show at the right time. So I worked in the Hy-Vee meat department in Vermillion in the mornings, went to class, and then commuted to Hartington, Neb., every day to help work on Gary’s show.
In college I was lucky enough to meet the right people and continued working jobs that helped me get where I am today.
My true passion is and will always be the conventional film-making process – actors, lights, scenes – it’s so magical to me. Fortunately, working for Sicmanta I’ve been given the opportunity very recently, to direct some really cool commercial spots and work in that sort of environment. A couple months ago, I was brought on as a director for a commercial campaign down in Louisiana starring the entire cast of Duck Dynasty – so much fun.
I’m completely open to any kind of video projects – I’m hoping to be able to write and direct a short narrative film or two sometime in the future.
What challenges are there in filming adventure movies versus a fiction film or other kinds of documentaries?
It has to be one of the hardest things to film and create stories around. It’s a constant battle of fighting the elements, managing people and gear, worrying about what’s going to happen, and not to mention one of your main subjects – the wildlife – is completely unpredictable. We’ve been working on what we’ve nicknamed “The Donnie Vincent Project” over the last three years and we’ve filmed all over the world: Patagonia, Alaska countless times, Northwest Territories, Newfoundland, to name a few. And every trip requires a grand plan but in all honesty we have no idea what may happen on these trips. “Film it all and the screen will tell” – is the mindset. It’s a constant balance of figuring out how to film certain things while also worrying about your own safety and the safety of everyone involved – and staying creative. Some of these expeditions may last months. We were dropped off by plane in the arctic circle of Alaska working on an upcoming film, and lived (worked) out of an 8-man tipi for almost a month. I saw everything from a black wolf carrying a caribou leg in it’s mouth, had a staring contest with a giant moose at 5 yards – and found myself 30 yards from a grizzly and her two cubs. You never know what’s going to happen – we just have to be sure to document it the best we can and hope people enjoy the outcome. It can be very stressful – tension builds… there was a time we had to get 2 miles up a river to reach our pick up point with 75 mph winds blowing directly in our face, we were literally traveling backwards, bitter cold, as grizzlies walked up and down the shoreline searching for salmon. It’s all part of it and it’s very rewarding. The best part is watching people watch the films and reading the reviews and taking in all of the varying reactions to the film.
The River’s Divide has been touring the country, playing in theaters – and I got to attend some screenings and it’s the best feeling in the world hearing and seeing people’s reaction to The River’s Divide. The film has also been selected to quite a few film festivals – and took home some incredible awards. Really cool to see a film about hunting be selected to be screened at these festivals, let alone be nominated for awards. We’re all very proud of the message the film sends and the story that was told. People seem to be really enjoying it as well. We know hunting can be a sensitive topic for some people – we’ve had people get up and leave the theater – but the majority of people, hunters and non-hunters alike, appreciate the insight into why people hunt. That was the main goal of the film, to show the entire process of what people like Donnie go through when they approach hunting and expose their true feelings as to why. Why kill an animal? – Tough subject for sure, but I think the film does a great job of exploring those feelings and emotions and tells that story and answers that question in a way people can appreciate. Opening eyes to those on the fence about hunting and having them come up to us and say they finally get why people partake in it – means so much. In the end, it’s a story that needed to be told.


Courtesy Photo — Yankton native Kyle Nickolite’s film directing career has taken him to many remote locations. In this photo, he was filming in the Arctic Circle of Alaska.

Do you consider “The River’s Divide” your first major film effort? Tell me about the process of filming it.

Absolutely. In my short career as a filmmaker, The River’s Divide is easily the project that I’m most proud to be involved with.
The bulk of the principal filming process consisted of Cinematographer William Altman (Maine) and Donnie (Wisconsin) spending countless hours hunting for the deer known as “Steve” out in the badlands of North Dakota. With hunting, we obviously can’t have an entire crew of camera operators following Donnie around so that job was given to William who knows a lot about hunting himself. The two are an incredible team. Out of the two years we spent working on The River’s Divide – I personally was only on location there in North Dakota for a couple months total – but every day spent there we wouldn’t take a break from filming – it was an all day every day process. My job was to keep the storyline intact – make sure we were filming all the pieces we needed to tell the story and stay as true to it as possible. This wasn’t hard at all to accomplish, the story seemed to tell itself and everything just fell into place. And with Donnie being a natural on camera – that made the job even more enjoyable. The sheer beauty of the location (badlands of northwest North Dakota) made capturing footage incredibly easy and we had all these cool and interesting natural aspects to tie into the story. Every day Donnie had to travel across this river in an old boat to get to the area of the land where the deer lived, so naturally this becomes a big part of the film and would eventually become the inspiration for it’s title.

How did you start working with Donnie Vincent, and did it end up being a very collaborative process between the two of you?

After college, I worked for a production company in Kansas City that took on a project that would focus on two hunters and their adventures all over the world. One of them was Donnie. The project dissolved for various reasons, but it was in Argentina where the idea for collaboration spawned. We were in Patagonia; one of the most beautiful places in the world and had just spent the last couple weeks hiking ash-covered hillsides from a recent volcano eruption. We were taking a break from hunting red stag, chatting on the top of a hill, when we discussed the possibility of producing these upcoming films (The River’s Divide) included. That idea turned into forming a production company in Hudson, WI (where Donnie lives) and we’ve been filming and producing work ever since.

Reviews of the film often mention not only the breathtaking cinematography but also the story arc that isn’t common in current hunting shows. How did you decide that was an approach you wanted to take, and did you take inspiration from any other films (I saw mention of “Shawshank Redemption” in one interview)?

I’m a movie lover. I’ve studied the philosophy of films, even minored in film studies in college. That enabled me to really dive into the craft. I was really inspired by the classes I took at USD. One of my professors, Timothy Case (assistant art director for Children of the Corn), played a huge role in developing my understanding of what makes a movie great – and why movies make us feel the way they do. We’d study foreign films a lot and all of the American classics of course. However, some of my favorite directors were from France – Jean-Luc Godard’s film “400 Blows” was so inspiring. It was amazing how I didn’t have to understand the language to know exactly what was going on in the film – simply because of the way it was made. More on the technical side of things… I would study the structure of scenes, composition, all the way down to the psychological aspects of film and film editing. Another professor of mine at USD that I give a ton of credit to developing my desire to make films is Todd Mechling. He really helped me hone in my skills and learn the very basics & fundamentals of the film-making process.
The story arc that we followed and the way we went about making “The River’s Divide” wasn’t really pre-decided – I just used the knowledge I’ve gained through my studies, combined with the natural talent of Donnie & William to construct the story in a cinematic way that would feel authentic to the viewer but still entertain. The true art and magic of the film was the real and raw story that played out – it’s truly unbelievable and once in a lifetime story. I still shake my head in disbelief when I think of how it all came together. I think even people that have no interest in hunting whatsoever, will find this movie very insightful and entertaining.
I drew a lot of inspiration from Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” in regards to the overall structure of the film. I get goose bumps just thinking about that film. What an inspiration that movie has been on everything I do. Quentin Tarantino said it best when he said, “I didn’t go to film school – I went to the movies”. The greatest tool for learning about film-making for me is to just watch movies. I wanted the backbone of The River’s Divide to be strung together with Donnie’s narration (just like Martin Sheen’s character.) That’s the feel I was going for anyway. Donnie is the only character in the film so there’s no back and forth dialogue between him and anyone to help move the story along – so the only way to develop Donnie’s “character” was through his thoughts and ideas that he would deliver verbally with a voice over or have him speak directly to he camera as if it were journal entries. Donnie wrote all of the voice-overs and it really became the strongest part of the film, in my opinion, and helped drive home the message we were trying to deliver. Donnie did a fantastic job.

It took two years to make the movie. Did you ever have moments of despair and question whether it would actually ever be finished, or were you ready for the long journey?

Yeah, at one point after the first year of filming we all thought the production would be shut down. You’ll have to see the movie to understand what I mean but there are some things that happen that were really heartbreaking for Donnie and he wasn’t even sure he was going to continue with filming. Luckily, for all of us he changed his mind and fought through the ups and downs – without those moments of despair and him questioning what he was even doing – the film wouldn’t be what it is.

Do you hunt yourself?

Being from South Dakota hunting has always been a part of my life. I always looked forward to pheasant opener, dove opener, and goose hunting is an absolute blast – some of the more fun times I’ve had with friends and family. But I wouldn’t consider myself a hunter by any means. I’ve never even shot a bow. I think the fact that I’m not a hunter really adds an interesting element to these productions, I know very little about hunting – so I’m focused on the story and the film making process more than anything.

Have you done adventure films outside of hunting?

Yes, we’ve spent some time in Argentina filming short films about fly-fishing and have plans in the future to do more of that. I’m very grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had to travel and work with such great people. It’s also amazing to be able to be able to do what I love and take the skills I’ve learned and apply them. It’s been an incredible journey so far and there’s much more to come that I’m very excited about.

Tell me about Ross Wuestewald’s involvement in “The River’s Divide.” How did that come about and what did he bring to the project?

I moved to Yankton from Columbus, Nebraska when I was six years old and my first day attending Webster Elementary my teacher assigned one of my classmates to be the one to show me around and make sure I had at least one person to talk to. I had no idea that person would become one of my best friends in life – Ross ‘Rosco’ Wuestewald. Ross is the lead singer of the greatest and best band in the world called Onward, ETC and he is one of the most talented people I know. (The band just recently got signed to a major label: DC-Jam Records). We’ve been collaborating on video work since we first got a hold of a camcorder when we were like ten years old. So it was only natural that Ross and his band would create the music for our film The River’s Divide. The music they came up with for the film is absolutely incredible and adds so much. Makes it even more personal. All of us that worked on the movie have become even closer and KC Olson, the violinist for Onward, etc has become one of my best friends as well. Donnie, myself, everyone involved in the film, and the band have become a family – those guys mean so much to this project and we’re so excited to work with them for this and films in the future.

When was “The River’s Divide” finished and first screened? When was it released on DVD? Can you announce when/where it will be aired on television?

The River’s Divide first screened in May 2013 at a theater in Reno, NV. Since then it’s played in theaters in Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Maine, South Dakota (Aberdeen), Minnesota, Kentucky, and Maryland.  It was released on DVD on December 19th, 2013. It was named the Judge’s Choice for “Best in Festival” at the 2013 Maine Outdoor Film Festival, selected to The River’s Edge Film Festival in Kentucky, is currently nominated for “Best Cinematography” at the Fargo International Film Festival and won best Dakota documentary at The South Dakota Film Festival. Unfortunately right now I can’t announce when it will be aired on national television but it will be aired most likely by next month – very excited to see the response. The film will also be available for purchase as a digital download in the near future, as well as blu-ray (no dates set yet for either).

What have you thought of the response to the film, and did it exceed your expectations?

The response has completely exceeded my expectations. I had no idea film festivals would select it to be featured let alone win any awards. It’s also pretty incredible that we’ve shipped DVD’s all over the world: Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Australia, UK, Italy, Austria, Canada, and just today sent out an order to Croatia. It’s so cool reading reviews in big publications like Field & Stream as well as just seeing the public’s response and hearing and reading comments about the film. The best part is definitely sitting in a theater and hearing people’s reactions first hand as well as meeting tons of people that enjoy it. At the screening in Aberdeen, Donnie had an older lady approach him and shared that all the years her husband spent getting out of bed at 5am to go hunting she never understood why – until she saw The River’s Divide. How cool is that?

Do you have any plans to screen the film in Yankton?

As of right now, there have been no plans to bring the film to Yankton – but I would love to make it happen if there is interest by one of the theaters or someone that could help with organizing the event.

You mentioned that this is one of a series of adventure films you will release in 2014. Can you tell us about what lies ahead? Are more Donnie Vincent/Ross Wuestewald collaborations in the works?

Over the last three years we’ve been filming all over the world producing the films that will follow the River’s Divide. Adventures that include hunting grizzlies with a bow in Alaska to trying to catch up with Woodland Caribou in Newfoundland. We’ll be releasing a 4-minute teaser trailer that will have highlights for the upcoming films. These films will most likely make their rounds on a film tour with an organization called “Full Draw Film Tour”, will then be available on DVD, and then will also air on television. That’s the plan for now anyway.
Ross will hopefully be collaborating on all of our film work – with his band just getting signed to a major label and the crazy amount of touring they do that might be difficult for them to pull off but I’m confident we’ll make it work.

What are your long-term professional goals? Is the film business a full-time job for you?

Our production company, Sicmanta, has become my full-time job. We have a lot of fun producing video work for different companies, anything from web videos to full blown commercial work.
It’s a great balance between the creative and personal work approach with films like “The River’s Divide” and the client work that comes in. We feel like we’re just getting our feet wet and are very excited for the future of this company and the upcoming adventure films.