Newsroom Midwest Region

Celebrating the future and appreciating the past

25 years of a prairie pothole gem

February 3, 2017

Cross country skiing at Rydell National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS.
Cross country skiing at Rydell National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of Rydell National Wildlife Refuge in northwestern Minnesota. This 2,070-acre gem lies on the eastern edge of the prairie pothole region, smack dab in between the tallgrass prairie, to the west, and the broadleaf forest, to the east.

The refuge weaves a mosaic of habitats that include grassland, wetland, forest, and oak savanna. Collectively, these lands and waters support an impressive diversity of wildlife that range from trumpeter swans and mink frogs, to black bear and other forest dwellers. The hardwood forests located in and around the refuge are some of the most westerly maple-basswood forests in Minnesota. The intersection of wooded areas like these with lakes, potholes, and prairie makes the refuge a great place to see nearly 200 species of birds.

Rydell National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1992, by means of a land donation from the Richard King Mellon Foundation. Aside from protecting wildlife habitat and diversity, the refuge also encourages waterfowl and other migratory bird production. It’s clear that the refuge is meeting this mission when you see nesting pairs of trumpeter swans every spring. Visitors are treated to several different groups of cygnets each summer.

In addition to trumpeter swans, you are likely to see common loons, red-necked grebes, green herons, and wood ducks in the lakes and wetlands when you visit. Northern harriers, savannah sparrows, river otters, and white-tailed deer are also common sightings throughout the refuge.

Lucky visitors might also see or hear a Le Conte’s sparrow, osprey, or horned grebe in and around the lakes and wetlands. Other “special” visitor sightings might include a fisher, red-breasted nuthatch, scarlet tanager, or northern parula.

With all of this diversity, it’s no surprise to hear that people love to watch and photograph wildlife here. With Grand Forks, North Dakota, and the roughly 65,000 people that call it come, about an hour’s drive from the Refuge, we enjoy welcoming folks. In 2016 alone, more than 2,200 people stopped by just to catch a glimpse of their favorite bird or sharpen their photography skills.

One of the most unique aspects of Rydell National Wildlife Refuge is how accessible it is to people of all abilities. Rydell welcomes recreationalists to enjoy more than six miles of public trails. Four of these miles are paved, which makes Rydell one of the most accessible refuges nationwide! Most people who come to the refuge for that purpose utilize the trail system, either on foot, or via bicycle, cross-country skis, or snowshoes.

Rydell is also an excellent outdoor classroom. Each May, several hundred area elementary school students take advantage of our popular environmental education program. We focus on increasing their understanding of the ecological significance of the area and developing a lifelong appreciation for wetlands, woodlands, and their associated biological diversity. Opportunities include school field outings, guided tours, and classroom presentations.

We also offer a peaceful and uncrowded fishing experience, which is certainly a rarity in most parts of Minnesota! Anglers come to fish for northern pike, largemouth bass, and panfish from two fully accessible piers on Tamarac Lake from May 1 to November 1. For a chance to reconnect to a favorite childhood activity or try fishing for the first time, make plans to bring your fishing pole along when you visit.

Rydell staff work hard to make sure that interested outdoor enthusiasts of all abilities can access the refuge. To that end, we conduct two special white-tailed deer hunts every October. The hunters with disabilities hunt, which just celebrated its 21st year, and mentored youth hunt, which includes a pre-hunt orientation and safety workshop.

Our staff work to expand wildlife-dependent recreation and biological diversity beyond refuge boundaries too. Each summer walleyes are raised in Rydell National Wildlife Refuge’s Clifford Lake for use in stocking lakes on Native American lands in northern Minnesota. In partnership with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Program, some state-managed lakes are also stocked with walleye fingerlings from Rydell.

Cultural history is alive and well at Rydell too. At one time, at least 19 farmsteads – many of them log structures – were located here. You can check out one of these preserved log structures and learn about its early history when you visit.

Learn more about Rydell National Wildlife Refuge:

Celebrating the future and appreciating the past

This series of articles is inspired by the long history of land managers and biologists who protect, restore and conserve our National Wildlife Refuge System lands. As our midwest refuges reach milestone anniversaries, we will highlight what makes them special. Look for historic photos, lesser known biological and geological tidbits and reflections from the people who know them best - refuge field staff. Learn more »