Town Hall Prairie preserve is one of many places in the state of Minnesota where the Conservancy bought land to help save the greater prairie chicken from extinction. Favored by European settlers for its meat, this native bird’s population plummeted. By preserving and protecting its habitat — grasslands —the greater prairie chicken population in Minnesota has rebounded. It still, however, faces extinction in several states.
From Rothsay, drive west on County Road 26 for about two miles until it intersects with County Road 19. Turn south and travel four miles to the intersection with County Road 20. Turn west and drive one-half a mile until you see The Nature Conservancy signs on the right side of the road. Park along the roadside here.
In the mesic portion of Town Hall Prairie, the dominant grasses are big bluestem, little bluestem, switchgrass, prairie dropseed and prairie cordgrass. In the preserve's northeast corner, which rises above a marsh area, hoary puccoon and porcupine grass are found along with small white lady's slipper and Hall's sedge. The wet prairie is dominated by cordgrass.
The greater prairie chicken is known for its “booming” courtship dance, where males dance, call and fight among themselves to establish their territory. This elaborate springtime courtship makes this native bird popular with nature enthusiasts and photographers. Other birds on the preserve include the northern harrier, red-tailed hawk, American kestrel, sedge wren and downy woodpecker.
Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
The plight of the greater prairie chicken was a major reason why the Conservancy decided to protect and preserve this land for future generations. Town Hall Prairie is located immediately south of the Conservancy’s 1,300-acre Anna Gronseth Prairie. Also nearby is the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Rothsay Prairie Wildlife Management Area, a 640 acre prairie-wetland complex to the north. When combined, these three sites contain some of the most important wetland and fen complexes in Wilkin County.
What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing
Harmful, non-native species are one of the biggest threats to native plants. One invasive plant at Town Hall Prairie is exotic Canada thistle. The Conservancy burns the prairie — called a controlled burn — to control this invasive plant. Fire traditionally plays an important role in the prairie ecosystem. It can remove debris and increase the vigor of fire-dependent plants, allowing them to compete with harmful, non-native species, such as Canada thistle.