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Celebrating Prairie

First Annual Event Invites Exploration, Understanding of Tallgrass Landscape

by Darla Lenz

Originally published in:
North Dakota Outdoors
(July, 2001)

The word prairie comes from a French word meaning meadow. The first European explorers who traveled across this mostly treeless landscape didn't have a proper word to describe North Dakota's amazing grassland ecosystem, which dwarfed European grasslands in size.

The state's first annual Prairie Day, August 11 in McLeod, celebrates tallgrass prairie, a rare type of grassland that contains grass species such as big bluestem, Indian grass, and switchgrass that can grow 4-6 feet tall, highlighted by dramatic wildflowers like prairie blazing star, wild lily, and black-eyed Susan.

Eastern North Dakota and much of the Midwest was once a blanket of tallgrass prairie. This native grassland vegetation primarily owes its origin to this region's climate, with its periodic drought and other natural influences such as frequent fires and grazing.

Prairie ecosystems support an enormous diversity of life. However, as prairie remnants have decreased in size and number, some inhabitants have become rare. Today, tallgrass prairie exists only in scattered remnants, with more than 95 percent of this ecosystem converted to croplands and development.

The Sheyenne National Grassland in Ransom and Richland counties, and Brown Ranch Preserve in Ransom County, still contain some of North Dakota's rare prairie species such as greater prairie chicken, western prairie fringed orchid, and Dakota skipper butterflies.

A New Prairie Day

Prairie Day is an opportunity for citizens to observe some of these rare species and experience the late summer beauty of tallgrass prairie wildflowers and grasses, which provide a hint of what North Dakota's bountiful native grasslands once looked like.

The Prairie Day event takes place in southeastern North Dakota at the U.S. Forest Service's Sheyenne National Grassland and The Nature Conservancy's Brown Ranch Preserve.

The day starts at 8 a.m. at the town park in McLeod, a few miles south of N.D. Highway 27 in eastern Ransom County. Activities are planned through 4 p.m; participants can experience the morning, afternoon, or entire day.

Activities include a guided prairie hike, horse-drawn wagon ride, and living history presentations. In addition, biologists and land management experts will highlight grassland birds, prairie wildflowers, wetland ecology, prescribed fire, and grazing management.

Prairie Day is sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service Dakota Prairie Grasslands, U.S. Geological Survey, North Dakota Game and Fish Department, The Nature Conservancy, North Dakota Chapter of the Wildlife Society, Ducks Unlimited, Fargo-Moorhead Audubon Society, and the American Foundation for Wildlife.

For more information: contact Kristine Askerooth at Tewaukon National Wildlife Refuge, 701-724-3598; or

Darla Lenz is a botanist at the U.S. Forest Service Dakota Prairie Grassland office in Bismarck.

This article is based on the following source:

Lenz, Darla.  2001.  Celebrating Prairie: first annual event invites exploration, understanding of tallgrass landscape.  N.D. Outdoors  64(1):20-21.

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