Named for the buffalo-hide traders who transported their goods by ox cart along Pembina Trail, this large preserve boasts interesting landforms and a wide range of plants, birds and mammals. From the booming call of prairie chickens to the dancing of sharp-tailed grouse, passing migratory birds and colorful wildflowers, each season brings new delights.
Pembina Trail Preserve is part of what The Nature Conservancy considers a large, functioning ecological system, or landscape-scale site. Great places like Pembina can support exceptional diversity of plant and animal life. The preserve's proximity to other natural areas enriches its ecology and enhances its suitability for animals that require large blocks of quality habitat.
The Conservancy's recent purchase of 24,270 acres in nearby Glacial Ridge created the largest prairie and wetland restoration project in history. Glacial Ridge links Pembina with two scientific and natural areas, three Federal Waterfowl Production Areas and about a dozen state-owned Wildlife Management Areas.
The Conservancy’s Pankratz Memorial Prairie, Thorson Prairie and Agassiz Dunes Scientific and Natural Area also are nearby.
From Crookston, take State Highway 102 southeast to the intersection with County Road 45. Turn east (left) and drive for six-and-a-half miles. Watch for The Nature Conservancy signs on the right side of the road. Park at the entrance of an old field road that formerly led into the preserve. There is a large wooden sign marking the access.
From Fertile, take State Highway 32 north to the intersection with County Road 45. Turn west (left) on County Road 45 and drive for 4 miles. Park at the entrance of an old field road that formerly led into the preserve. There is a large wooden sign marking the access.
European settlers converted some of the preserve's land from prairie to farmland and excavated two stockponds for livestock. Mostly, this land is an outstanding natural area with broad diversity. Scientists describe Pembina Trail Preserve as an excellent example of tallgrass prairie that hosts a great diversity of plant species.
June grass, purple prairie clover, big and little bluestem and mat muhly are some of the prairie plants at Pembina.
Early settlers hunted prairie chickens by the wagonload for food. They once numbered in the millions, and in springtime, their booming mating ritual rocked Minnesota’s prairies. As prairies became farmland, these birds almost disappeared. In recent years, this native grouse species has made a comeback.
Each spring, visitors can see male prairie chickens spread their wings and tail feathers, inflate the orange sacs on either side of their neck, strut and make a deep, resonant "booming" sound.
Many other animals thrive here, including 73 bird species, 35 butterfly species, 11 mammal species, three amphibian species and one reptile species. In recent years, visitors have seen such rare sites as bald eagles, peregrine falcons and a whooping crane.
Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
Pembina Trail falls within the northern portion of the Agassiz Beach Ridges, a tallgrass prairie landscape with a long history of Conservancy involvement. This preserve is at the core of this priority landscape. Pembina Trail contains a broad range of native plant communities: from fens, dry prairie ridges, bullrush sloughs and sedge meadows. It has relatively few invasive species and is a high quality prairie remnant located among many other private and publicly owned prairies.
What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing
The Conservancy is actively involved with a number of projects at Pembina Trail, including an intensive research project comparing how typical prairie management practices, such as prescribed burns and haying, affect plant species. Additionally, the Conservancy and U.S. Geological Survey are conducting ground water research to better understand what influence wetland restoration on the adjacent Glacial Ridge Project will have on the local hydrology.