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Natural Areas of North Dakota

John E. Williams Memorial Nature Preserve

GIF--Location of Natural Area


Pamela J. Dryer

Directions: From the town of Turtle Lake, it is roughly 1 mile north and 5 miles east. Because road access to this newly-acquired area is limited, visitors should contact the Nature Conservancy.

Local residents and landowners have nicknamed this site "Valley-of-the-Moon" because it appears as a barren landscape at first glance. Large wind-swept alkali lakes are surrounded by barren, salt-encrusted beaches and large glacial boulders. Native prairie on the preserve is strewn with salt-tolerant plant species and in some places, only the hardy salt grass can prod its way through the hard gravelly substrate adjacent to the lakes.

JPG--Piping Plover and Sunset

Because the landscape of this preserve is so unusual, it attracts an unusual fauna. The lakes are teaming with crustaceans that thrive in the salty water. Beaches harbor insect larvae that burrow into the sand. Shorebirds and waterfowl follow in pursuit of these tasty rations of protein and find refuge from predators in the large expanses of water.

The most significant feature of John E. Williams Nature Preserve is its breeding population of piping plovers. The federally threatened shorebird finds the barren shoreline ideal nesting habitat and the abundant crustaceans a vital food source for adults and young chicks. In fact, this area harbors one, if not the largest concentration of breeding piping plovers in the world.

Expect to see piping plovers in May, June, and July. Other bird life, including a diversity of many duck species, raucous marbled godwits, and dainty phalaropes are also readily seen. Fall and spring conditions attract thousands of unusual shorebirds and waterfowl, including cranes, geese, and swans.

Facilities: None.

Ownership and Contact: John E. Williams Nature Preserve is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy, a national non-profit conservation organization. Public use is limited to certain areas during the piping plover breeding season. For maps and use information contact: The Nature Conservancy, c/o Cross Ranch Nature Preserve, HC 1, Box 112, Hensler, ND 58547.

PAMELA J. DRYER is natural resources coordinator for the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department in Bismarck, N.D.

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