Why You Should Visit
The grasslands of the Great Plains once covered one fifth of the North American Continent. Ordway represents a fraction of what remains after the west was settled. Visitors are reminded of the history of the Great Plains through the numerous granite boulders and potholes that are evidence of the area's glacial past. Indian history is recalled by teepee rings, and settlements of pioneers are remembered in the ruins of an old homestead.
Ordway Prairie lies at the southern end of large untilled landscape consisting of over 135,000 acres that extends into North Dakota. Within that landscape, many properties are managed by conservation partners such as Ducks Unlimited, South Dakota Game Fish and Parks, and the Fish and Wildlife Service.
A weather station was installed at Ordway Prairie in 2007, as part of the U.S. Climate Reference Network. This network of climate stations is designed to track the nation’s temperature and precipitation trends. In exchange for basic maintenance, the Conservancy gets access to the real-time weather data, which is useful because much of our work is dependent on or affected by the weather, such as prescribed fire, weed control and monitoring.
Ordway Prairie is located within the Prairie Pothole Region of South Dakota. Ordway Prairie is located 10 miles west of Leola, or 50 miles northwest of Aberdeen, SD.
Plan Your Visit
For more information on visiting this and other South Dakota preserves, check out our Preserve Visitation Guidelines.
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What to See: Plants
Over 300 plant species exist on the preserve. Tallgrass species are in the lowland areas, mid-height species are found on hill sides, and short grass species found on hill tops. Hillsides are covered with wildflowers from late spring throughout the summer.
A new, self-guided lichen trail is near the south farmhouse at the preserve headquarters. The trail is open year round, and there are more than 30 species identified. Download the trail guide here. (PDF, 184 KB)
What to See: Animals
The Conservancy maintains a bison herd of about 250 animals in the central portion of the preserve. The bison are wild animals and should not be approached. The herd can sometimes be viewed across the fence from the nature trail area. Badgers, ground squirrels, fox, and coyotes may also be viewed on the preserve. The preserve also contains more than 400 wetlands. Several thousand pairs of waterfowl nest on the preserve along with shorebirds, grebes, rails, and herons. The 7,800 acres of contiguous mixed grass prairie is used by many grassland birds.
Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
Most of the preserve has never been plowed and has been managed with a good rotational grazing system. The area contained a very diverse mix of prairie plants, which was the original scientific interest. The aquatic communities were also of interest to the Conservancy. Ordway Prairie is the largest preserve owed and managed by the Nature Conservancy in South Dakota. The landscape in which the preserve lies is threatened by conversion to agriculture, incompatible grazing practices and invasive species.
Supplies and fuel can be purchased in Leola about 10 miles east or in Eureka about 20 miles west of Ordway. A small hotel and camping facilities are available in Eureka. The visitor trail is generally open to visitors at all times. There are no facilities available. Summers can be very hot and visitors should bring drinking water. Binoculars are valuable for viewing wildlife. At certain times of the year, mosquitoes and ticks are abundant. For more information, contact preserve staff at (605) 439-3475.
From the intersection of Highways 10 and 45 in Leola, travel about 8 miles west on Highway 10. There is a blue water tower on the north side of the road. The Ordway property is on the south side of the road. The blue water tower marks the northeast corner. The self-guided trail area is one mile west of the blue water tower on the south side of Highway 10. Look for the kiosk and sign at the trailhead on the south side of the road.