Places We Protect

Samuel H. Ordway, Jr. Memorial Preserve

South Dakota

A bison bull looking at the camera.
Bison bull Ordway Prairie in South Dakota. © Gustavus Adolphus College

The grasslands of the Great Plains once covered one-fifth of the North American Continent.



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.

Why TNC 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 TNC. Ordway Prairie is the largest preserve owned 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.




7,800 acres

Explore our work in South Dakota

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.

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.

Visit Our Preserve

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.

Plan Your Visit

For more information on visiting this and other South Dakota preserves, check out our Preserve Visitation Guidelines.

Lend a Hand at Ordway!

Volunteers in tie-dye shirts pose outdoors on a wooden ramp in front of a building.
VOLUNTEER WITH US Volunteers at Ordway play in important role in keeping this place healthy and well-maintained for the future. © Mary Miller/TNC

The Nature Conservancy and partners are looking for highly motivated and hardworking individuals to assist our team at the Ordway Prairie Preserve in Leola, South Dakota, on various management and research projects. This is an excellent opportunity to gain skills related to grassland management and conservation or to just utilize your expertise by donating time to a project.

Ready to get started as a volunteer?

Start your journey as an Ordway volunteer below.