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Natural Areas of North Dakota

Smith Grove Wildlife Management Area

GIF--Location of Natural Area


Elmer "Buck" Worthington

Directions: From Cross Ranch headquarters, 4 miles south.

One of the most impressive forest stands in North Dakota is located 25 miles north of Mandan, adjacent to the Lewis & Clark Trail on the Missouri River bottom. For many years it was a dream of North Dakota foresters to set aside this attractive area so that it could be enjoyed by their generation and many to come. It was purchased in 1971 as a 23.7 acre tract from George Smith by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Smith Grove has perhaps the greatest concentration of mammoth cottonwood trees in North Dakota.


Twelve of the big cottonwoods are over 15 feet in circumference, 90 to 100 feet tall and are estimated to be from 250 to 300 years of age. The biggest of these monarchs was 22.8 feet in circumference, 108 feet tall with an average crown spread of 73.5 feet. But in September of 1986 a strong wind twisted it off leaving a stump that is 35 feet tall, so it will not be a contender in the Big Tree Contest being held with the 1989 State Centennial.

Deer and wild turkeys flourish in this area. Bobcat and raccoon were noted on the tract, but it was not known until the big tree was broken down that they had lived in its hollow interior.

George Smith and his family loved this tree grove so much that they did not graze it or winter livestock on it or allow it to be burned. When you walk from the parking lot to the big trees (about 1,000 feet) you will notice the dense stand of younger and smaller trees growing under the big cottonwoods. This is the second generation and they are mostly green ash, box elder, bur oak, American elm and an occasional peach-leaf willow. You will not see any small cottonwoods as they cannot germinate or grow in the dense shade of the grove. Cottonwoods require full sunlight to successfully grow. Bare sandbars are the ideal spots for new stands of cottonwood. As time goes on all these old, mammoth cottonwoods will be lost. It may take another 100 years before all of them pass from the scene. Until that time comes both the forester and the general public will be able to study and appreciate the grandeur of these tremendous cottonwood trees.

Facilities: A clearly marked foot trail leads from the parking lot past the monarch trees to the river.

Ownership and Contact: Smith Grove WMA is owned by N.D. Game and Fish Department. Information on use regulations is available by writing: N.D. Game and Fish Department, District Office, 812 Airport Road, Bismarck, ND 58501.

ELMER "BUCK" WORTHINGTON is a retired state forester of the Soil Conservation Service, residing in Mandan, N.D.

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