1979: Speeches, Songs, Flags, and Pancakes – The Celebration of a Record-Setting Airport on the U.S.-Canada Border

July 28, 1979

A major aviation milestone took place with the celebration of an extended runway for a longtime public-use, general aviation airport in northwestern Minnesota’s community of Pinecreek. This 1,150-foot (350.5-foot) extension, by stretching the runway across the United States’ border with Canada and into the community of Piney in the Canadian province of Manitoba, made the airport a binational one.

“It won’t be long before you can land a small plane in Canada and taxi into the United States,” noted the Associated Press in a story published shortly before the formal debut of Piney Pinecreek Border Airport’s lengthened runway. “The occasion will be the opening of what is believed to be the only airstrip in the world that runs between two countries.”

Those on hand for the Saturday celebration of that runway included Al Quie, governor of Minnesota from 1979 to 1983; and Sterling Lyon, Manitoba’s premier between 1977 and 1981. In their respective speeches, they each emphasized how the spanning of the airport’s infrastructure across both Minnesota and Manitoba was symbol of the strong friendship between the United States and Canada. The next day’s edition of the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune reported, “The occasion was also recognized with songs, flags, an airshow, and a pancake breakfast.”

A major force in the building of the airport in the first place was Pinecreek resident Eugene Simmons, a farmer and customs broker. In 1949, a one-time Minnesota state senator named William Dahlquist suggested to Simmons that an airport in that part of the North Star State would be beneficial because of the border crossing at Pinecreek. Dahlquist specifically persuaded Simmons that smaller planes traveling across the border there could clear customs at that location without the pilots needing to take care of those legal requirements instead at airports in the vicinity of Minneapolis and Manitoba’s capital city of Winnipeg.   

Simmons, who never piloted a plane in his life, used an $18,000 grant to acquire property for the prospective airport in 1950. The airport opened during the summer of 1953, with the runway terminating at the border with Canada.

In 1971, Simmons — who was working without pay as manager of the airport — was informed that the runway would have to be extended to meet Minnesota’s minimum length requirements for airstrips. As Simmons later recounted in an interview with the Star Tribune, extending the runway to the south was not an option because of a paved road in that area and the inevitable opposition he would receive from local residents not wanting to have that route closed. “So I got the idea of going north across the border,” Simmons explained.

Over the next several years, Simmons and others worked tirelessly to negotiate with various government agencies on both sides of the border and make that longer runway a reality. Starting in 1972, Simmons collaborated with the Piney Chamber of Commerce to help facilitate building the extension on Canadian soil. Two of Simmons’ leading allies in Manitoba for that project were Eddie Baudette and William Tkachuk.

As a binational airport, Piney Pinecreek Border Airport is jointly owned by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Local Government District of Piney. The airport is operated by the Piney/Pinecreek Border Airport Commission. (In the above photo of the airport’s ramp facilities that was taken in 2019, the building and ramp on the left side is in Canada and the building and ramp to the right are in the United States.)

Piney Pinecreek Border Airport is now one of six airports straddling the United States-Canada border. It is also the easternmost of those airports. The other five facilities from east to west are International Peace Garden Airport at the North Dakota-Manitoba border; Coronach/Scobey Border Station Airport at the Montana-Saskatchewan border; Coutts/Ross International Airport at the Montana-Alberta border; Whetstone International Airport, likewise located at the Montana-Alberta border; and Avey Field State Airport at the Washington-British Columbia border.

Photo Credit: Wtshymanski (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)

For more information on Piney Pinecreek Border Airport, please check out https://www.airportiq5010.com/5010ReportRouter/48Y.pdf and https://www.nytimes.com/1979/06/28/archives/border-airport-overcomes-gophers-and-bureaucracies-killdeer.html

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