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Natural Areas of North Dakota

Cross Ranch Nature Preserve

GIF--Location of Natural Area


Robert Hamilton

Directions: From Hensler, 6 miles southeast or from Mandan, west on I-94 to Hwy. 25, north 18 1/2 miles, turn right (north) on Hensler road 5 miles, east 4 1/2 miles, north 1 1/2 miles to headquarters.

On October 25, 1804, when Lewis and Clark landed on the banks of the Missouri River in what is now North Dakota, Meriwether Lewis wrote of the "handsome high prairie." The land on which they were standing is today Cross Ranch Nature Preserve. The pristine landscapes and abundant natural diversity noted by Lewis and Clark can still be found today on the preserve.

JPG--Scenic Overlook

The 6,000-acre Cross Ranch Nature Preserve contains vast expanses of "handsome" native mixed grass prairie, one of the largest undisturbed tracts of Missouri River bottomland forest remaining in North Dakota, as well as upland woody draws and prairie potholes. This diverse array of natural communities supports an equally diverse assemblage of plants and animals. Over 300 native plants have been identified, some rare and out of their expected distribution ranges. The abundant wildlife species include many eastern and western songbirds, hawks, eagles, owls, turkeys, white-tailed and mule deer, badgers, raccoons, and coyotes, to name a few.

The management objective at Cross Ranch Nature Preserve is to protect and maintain the diversity of native plants and animals. This is done by using natural ecological processes to manage the natural communities. The most important management tools are prescribed burning and bison grazing. A bison starter herd was introduced in 1986, and will grow to a stable herd of 150 animals grazing 2,300 acres.

In addition to its ecological values, the preserve is of considerable historic importance. More than 100 archaeological sites have been located on the property, including outstanding examples of Mandan-Hidatsa culture and Archaic period sites (6000 B.C. to 1 A.D.).

Even the name, Cross Ranch is historic. Originally known as the Gaines Ranch, the Gaines family acquired the rights to Teddy Roosevelt's Maltese Cross brand for use on their ranch. When Robert Levis, a Roosevelt enthusiast, purchased the ranch in the mid 1950s, he renamed it the Cross Ranch, and continued to use the famous Maltese Cross brand. Cross Ranch was purchased by the Nature Conservancy in 1982 with more than $1.5 million donated by 6,500 individuals, foundations, and corporations.

Background Information: Preserve pamphlet and self-guiding prairie nature trail brochures available upon request.

Facilities: Cross Ranch Nature Preserve is open year-round for passive types of recreation such as day-hiking and cross-country skiing. There are no public facilities on the preserve, but camping, an interpretive center, boat ramp, and hiking trails will be available in the adjacent Cross Ranch State Park which is proposed to open in 1989.

Ownership and Contacts:
Ownership: The Nature Conservancy and North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department.

Contact: Manager, Cross Ranch Nature Preserve, the Nature Conservancy, H.C. I, Box 112, Hensler, ND 58547 or ND Parks and Recreation Department, 1424 W. Century Ave., Suite 202, Bismarck, ND 58501.

ROBERT HAMILTON is state land steward for The Nature Conservancy at Hensler, N.D.

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