Denbigh Experimental Forest
I am occasionally told that the biggest change settlers observed in the North Dakota landscape was the planting of trees. I don’t know if that is the biggest change, but it is certainly true that the landscape viewed by the first European settlers, with few exceptions, was pretty much devoid of trees.
I was thinking about that recently when I traveled highway 2 between Minot and Towner. There is a sign along the highway near Denbigh that proclaims “Denbigh Experimental Forest.” No doubt many travelers have wondered what that experimental forest was as they continued driving down the highway.
The U.S. Forest Service’s Denbigh Experimental Forest dates back to 1931. It was established to 1) establish various tree species to determine which grow well and are suited for shelterbelt planting in the northern Great Plains; 2) determine which seed sources within species are best adapted for the northern Great Plains; and 3) determine which methods of tree establishment are most effective for shelterbelts.
Starting in the 1930’s and continuing into the 1960’s, the plantings of over 40 species of trees from North America, Europe and Asia were the subject of experiments here. Over half of the species tested were conifers. The species used in the research included Scots pine, Ponderosa pine, Black Hills spruce, Rocky Mountain juniper, Siberian larch, and Russian olive.
The tract encompasses close to a square mile, about 60% of which is tree plantings with the reminder largely native prairie. There is also the Joseph Stoeckeler Arboretum. Stoeckeler was a researcher at the experimental forest who, according to the signage “greatly contributed to the success of shelterbelt plantings in the Great Plains.” Species in the arboretum include some common trees such as cottonwood and boxelder as well as some exotic species like Chinese red pine, Manchurian ash, Siberian larch, and Chinese juniper.
We have treed this vast and treeless plain, and the Denbigh Experimental Forest played an important part in that effort. If you are in the area, consider making at least a short visit to the experimental forest. There is no staff on site, but there are auto trails as well as hiking trails in the tract. The area would be excellent for doing some birding or perhaps taking a short nature hike.
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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