If you are looking for a good place to do a little nature watching, consider one of the three National Grasslands in the state. The National Grasslands are administered by the U.S. Forest Service. There are three National Grasslands in North Dakota, and all are administered by the Dakota Prairie Grasslands office in Bismarck with district offices in Lisbon, Watford City, Dickinson, and Lemmon, SD.
There are four management goals for the National Grasslands according to the Land and Resource Management Plan for the Dakota Prairie Grasslands: Ensure sustainable ecosystems, multiple benefits to people, scientific and technical assistance, and effective public service. As such, the National Grasslands are open to public use such as nature observation, hiking, hunting and fishing, biking, and camping. However, National Grasslands are not one contiguous block of public land. Rather they are a mosaic of federal, state, and privately owned lands, so users must be respectful of the private lands within the grasslands.
The Little Missouri National Grassland lies within several counties in the badlands and is the largest National Grassland in the country with over a million acres. As one would expect, it is a haven for wildlife ranging from bighorn sheep and both mule and white-tail deer, to prairie dogs, wild turkey, and golden eagles. The Maah Daah Hey Trail, one of the premier mountain biking and hiking trails in the country stretches for about a hundred miles from near the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park south of Watford City to near the south unit at Medora.
About 70,000 acres of what is sometimes described as the only publically owned tallgrass prairie in the nation constitutes the Sheyenne National Grassland in Ransom County. This tallgrass prairie supports a population of prairie chickens as well as the endangered western prairie fringed orchid. A portion of the North Country Trail also passes through the grassland.
Lastly, consisting of over 6,000 acres in Sioux and Grant Counties, the Cedar River National Grassland supports a mixture of mixed-grass prairie and riparian habitats along with sandstone ridges and sand dunes. It is home to Dakota buckwheat which is a globally rare species.
So the next time you need to get out and enjoy a little Natural North Dakota, consider visiting one of our National Grasslands.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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