The Glacial Lake Agassiz once was the largest freshwater lake in the world, larger even than the Great Lakes. It sprawled across North Dakota and Minnesota and far into Manitoba and Saskatchewan, nurtured by the melting waters of the great glaciers of the north. Along the Eastern shore of this glacial lake, on an ancient river delta, now lies Norway Dunes.
It is one of the highest quality sand dune oak savanna's in Minnesota. You can walk amid gnarled, stunted burr oak trees - these 20 to 25 foot tall trees are a rare sight. The savanna covers about 100 acres of the preserve, with wetland and lowland forest covering the remaining 220 acres.
From Halma, go east on County Road 7 for about eight-tenths of a mile, and turn north onto a gravel road. Continue for two miles and pull over to the side where a dirt road heads west. A grassy two-track trail heads east. Follow it for one-half a mile to the mailbox in the southwest corner of the preserve.
The convergence of dune, lowland forest and mesic prairie habitats results in an interesting interplay of plant life. Beach heather, normally found along the Atlantic Coast, is one of many rare plant species found here. The showy pink and white blooms of the lady's slipper - Minnesota's state flower - can be seen in the lowland forest during June and July.
Rare forbs on the dunes include blunt sedge and Drummond's campion, both of special concern, and Holboell's rockcress, state listed as threatened. The brilliant red stalks of clustered broomrape and Louisiana broomrape, both listed as species of special concern, also have been documented.
The savanna is dominated by little bluestem, June-grass and porcupine grass. Bearberry, a woody shrub with red berries, creeps along the ground some areas.
Male marbled godwits can be seen in the spring chasing each other in elaborate figure eights in the air. Its long, pink bill helps it forage for food in shallow water. Marbled godwits share this land with many birds, including long-legged upland sandpipers, brown thrashers, sandhill cranes and black-billed magpies.
Moose, the world's largest member of the deer family, also live here. And the Tallgrass Aspen Parklands are home to a thriving herd of elk.
Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
As one of the highest quality sand dune oak savannas in Minnesota, the chance to purchase this land in 1982 was a rare opportunity. Norway Dunes preserves an excellent example of what plants could be found along the Agassiz sand dunes before settlers moved here.
In addition to Norway Dunes, there are three additional Conservancy preserves that lie along the former shore of Glacial Lake Agassiz and feature sand dunes. They include the Wallace C. Dayton Conservation & Wildlife Area, near Skull Lake Wildlife Management Area; Agassiz Dunes Scientific and Natural Area; and Brown Ranch in North Dakota's Sheyenne Delta.
What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing
Because Norway Dunes preserve is a haven for native plants, it's important to control the threat posed by invasive non-native plants. The sudden introduction of a foreign species to a new landscape, one free from natural competitors and predators, can cause ecological chaos.
There are several ways to control their encroachment. One way is using a prescribed burn. Fire traditionally plays an important role in the prairie ecosystem. It can remove debris, increase the vigor of fire-dependent plants and, most importantly, remove invasive species.