Center

September 23, 2022

Inside my local newspaper was an AP article on a shift in the population center of the US.  This calculation is preformed every ten years after completion of the survey by the US Census Bureau.  For the next ten years this honor belongs to the town of Hartville with a population of 594 residents (as of 2020).  Missouri has been the population center of America since 1980.  Since the 2010 census identified Plato, Missouri, as the population center it means this decades’ shift was 11.8 miles (19 km).  This is the smallest distance shift in 100 years and the second smallest in US census history.  Dignitaries from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Census Bureau were present to officially debut the red granite marker topped with a tripod.  According to the Census Bureau this “spot would be the ‘balance point’ if the 50 states were located on an imaginary flat surface with weights of identical size – each resenting the location of one person – placed on it.”  Sounds like someone has a lot of time on their hands waiting ten years for the next census.   

When I looked online, I found the center of the US has also been calculated geographically as well as by population.  The geographic center of the US is northeast of Belle Fourche in Butte County, South Dakota (with coordinates: 44°58′N 103°46′W).  The geographic center of the contiguous 48 states (minus Alaska and Hawaii) is near Lebanon in Smith County, Kansas (with coordinates: 39°50′N 98°35′W).  Although the designation has no official status, the geographic center of North America is in the US and was thought to lie near Rugby, North Dakota (with coordinates: 48°10′N 100°10′W).  In 2017, a new calculation of the geographic center of North America placed it near the town of Center, North Dakota.  The change occurred because of rising sea levels because of climate change and from a shift in the calculation measure itself.

For years the cities of Center and Rugby have contested which is the actual geographical center of North America.  Different scientists have used various methods to determine the geographical center of the continent.  Now, changes in sea level due to glacial melt have resulted in a shifting in its position.  The lack of a clear definition of what constitutes a geographic center also contributes to its varied identification.  The debate between the two cities officially ended recently with the accurate calculation of the exact geographic center of North America by University of Buffalo professor Peter Rogerson.  Appropriately, Center, located in Oliver County, North Dakota, is the new geographical center of North America.  Rogerson used the azimuthal equidistant projection method to determine the geographical center.  Based on his calculations he concluded the geographical center was in the middle of the city of Center, 145 miles from the previous geographical center in Rugby.  The findings are more accurate as the azimuthal equidistant projection method considers the Earth’s curvature.  Both have commemorative markers and still claim the title of North America’s center.

THOUGHTS:  Although my memories are vague, I still recall our family visit to the geographical center located near Lebanon in Smith County, Kansas.  I believe this was on the same trip where we visited the Farm and Ranch Museum in Gering, in western Nebraska.  The mission of the museum is, “To preserve and interpret the agricultural heritage of the High Plains.”  The wonder of these odd trips was passed on to me as an adult.  Our first vacation (after the honeymoon) as a tour of the small towns and attractions of western Kansas.  The common “wonders” in rural areas still hold an appeal.  How we lived and survived the rigors of the past are a road map for the future.  Hopefully, we will learn from the pandemic as well.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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