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Longtime Captains' Landing Township residents Fred Rios, left, and Mickey Anderson stand on Captain Marsh Drive earlier this week in the small community situated alongside the Missouri River between Bismarck and Mandan.

Captains' Landing Township is an island in Bismarck-Mandan and a paradise for Fred Rios.

"The livability and the calmness, and we are just a unique township," the longtime township board supervisor and chairman said.

Staked out on the west bank of the Missouri River near the historic BNSF rail bridge, Captains' Landing Township is the only organized township in Morton County and likely the smallest by area in North Dakota. About 130 residents call it home.

Mickey Anderson's family initiated the township's organization and development about 40 years ago after buying the land. It was platted from two subdivisions and a part of Hay Creek Township, which straddled the Missouri River.

"We wanted to be able to determine our own fate," Anderson said.

Residents pay no Mandan city taxes. Three supervisors, a clerk and a treasurer run the township, which does its own street maintenance. The Morton County Sheriff's Office patrols the township, which has 58 homes. Children attend Mandan schools.

“The bus comes and takes kids to Mandan, so, you know, just like kids from St. Anthony would go to Mandan,” said former U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who has lived in the township since 1985.

The township's only business is a landscaping company. Famed riverboat Capts. Grant Marsh and Joseph Leach are the namesakes for the township's streets.

Rios, a New Mexico native who retired after a globe-trotting Air Force career that brought him to Bismarck, likes the township's size and independence. He's lived there since 1989.

Its residents are friendly and "unique," he said, noting several doctors that live there, as well as Heitkamp. 

She says the township reminds her of her small hometown of Mantador in far southeastern North Dakota.

"Everybody helps everybody else," she said, pointing to the township's quick response in sandbagging during 2011 Missouri River flooding.

"When you need the park mowed, everybody volunteers to go do that. When somebody needs some help, everybody volunteers, so it's just a real small town," Heitkamp said.

The "iconic" rail bridge is a beloved landmark, she added. Area enthusiasts of the bridge have for more than two years sought a plan to save the 136-year-old structure from demolition as BNSF plans for a new crossing.

"If you look at pictures of Bismarck-Mandan, it's much more likely you're going to see pictures of the railroad bridge than even the state Capitol," Heitkamp said.

North Dakota has few enclaved communities like Captains' Landing Township. Fargo encloses a handful of tiny cities, such as Prairie Rose and Frontier, which are essentially neighborhood size but distinct from Fargo.

North Dakota has about 1,300 townships, 1,000 of which are organized. At less than 1 square mile, Captains' Landing is small for a township. Townships can cover vast swaths of land.

"It's a pretty unique place, and we love it," Rios said.

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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Capitol Reporter