The open road

FOXHOLM – A wide variety of what nature has to offer can be found along the Prairie Marsh Scenic Drive at the Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge.

The self-guided tour is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. The entrance to the scenic drive is located just below Lake Darling Dam. Brochures are available near the entrance that explain the significance of several marked locations along the route. In addition, several turnouts offer both interpretive signage and scenic overlooks.

“It gives visitors an opportunity to view native prairie, some of the sights along the marsh and marsh habitat,” said Duane Anderson, Upper Souris NWR. “The tour even offers some of the history of the refuge.”

Part of that history is the story of Camp Maurek. Camp Maurek housed workers of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC did extensive work in establishing the refuge and constructing Lake Darling Dam. The camp was located within the boundaries of Upper Souris NWR, including extensive barracks. The site is clearly visible from one of the stops on the scenic drive, particularly before vegetation begins to grow higher as spring transitions to summer. Most notable is “Camp Maurek” spelled out in white-painted stones placed against a hillside opposite the scenic drive.

While some of the refuge’s history is explained at interpretive stops along the tour, the big draw remains the unique habitat and the wildlife it contains. The importance of native prairie and woodlands is explained during designated tour stops for those who wish to read and learn more about the region and the refuge.

Many people choose to drive the tour by automobile. Others make frequent stops for the purpose of inhaling fresh air, feeling natural prairie under their feet, listening to the sounds and making a thorough examination of the area.

“There’s a lot of marsh birds, a lot of different birds,” said Anderson. “Waterfowl is quite easily observed, especially from the observation tower on the lower portion of the drive.”

The observation tower, or platform, is handicap accessible. Visitors may ascend a wide ramp walk-way to two different levels that offer excellent views of the nearby marsh. Permanent viewers, similar to binoculars, are available on both levels of the viewing platform. Interpretive signage adds to the visitor’s understanding of the refuge and the wildlife that resides there.

The view from several locations on the scenic drive is remarkable, offering visitors a unique chance to experience refuge lands up close and personal. For the more ambitious and adventurous visitors there are also hiking opportunities within the refuge.

“The Cottonwood Trail is a nature trail that is along a big coulee. It’s a bit strenuous,” said Anderson. “The Pelican Trail is an easy hike to the edge of the marsh where there is an observation blind.”

The Pelican Marsh Scenic Drive is not limited to automobiles. Hikers and bikers are welcome to experience the trail too. Separate from the scenic drive and accompanying trailheads is another hiking trail – the Oxbow Trail. The Oxbow is a short trail that begins and ends at the Outlet Fishing Area below Lake Darling Dam. That trail was underneath several feet of water during the 2011 flood but has since reopened to the public.

Grouse blinds open

Three sharptail grouse observation blinds are currently available to the public at Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge. Sharptail grouse perform their ritual mating dances each spring. Late arrival of spring this year appears to have pushed back the dancing ground schedule for sharptails.

Blinds are available by reservation only. Persons interested in reserving a sharptail grouse observation blind should contact Upper Souris at 468-5467.

-Kim Fundingsland