Published December 19, 2012, 08:38 AM

Largest prairie restoration in history marks milestone in Polk County

The last parcel of prairie and wetland restored by The Nature Conservancy is transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, completing a 12-year project.

By: Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald

The largest prairie restoration in U.S. history marks another milestone today when The Nature Conservancy transfers the final parcel of its Glacial Ridge Project in Polk County to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

With today’s transfer of 2,675 acres, Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge will encompass more than 20,600 acres. The federal agency will continue to manage the refuge out if its office at Rydell National Wildlife Refuge near Erskine, Minn.

The Nature Conservancy purchased the 24,500-acre site, known locally as the Tilden Farms land, in 2000 for $9 million. The group dubbed the site the Glacial Ridge Project for the area’s beach ridge terrain, which was created by glacial Lake Agassiz.

Much of the site had been drained and plowed for agriculture, and TNC’s purchase set the stage for a large-scale campaign to restore native grasses and wetlands.

Tallgrass prairies, like that at Glacial Ridge, are one of the most threatened ecosystems in North America, with only about 1 percent remaining in Minnesota.


TNC has been transferring restored parcels to the Fish and Wildlife Service since 2004, when Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge was established.

To finance the restoration work, TNC enrolled the land in the federal Wetlands Reserve Program. Administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, WRP pays private landowners to restore and protect wetlands.

TNC announced the final transfer today.

“We’re pretty excited around here,” said Peggy Ladner, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota. “We’re seeing the fruits of the effort of more than a decade worth of work now go from what you’d call the reconstruction-restoration phase into the long-term management and enjoyment phase.

“I think we’ll continue to see wonderful benefits from this project to the neighbors, to the community and to the thousands — hopefully tens of thousands — of people who get out and use this refuge.”

Chris Anderson, assistant director for TNC in Minnesota, said the transfers of Glacial Ridge land have included a combination of donations, sales and reduced-price purchases. The Service paid about $1 million for the final piece of property announced today, he said.

He said TNC has retained a small amount of land, including the site of a gravel quarry, and is looking to sell a couple of other smaller parcels.


Dave Bennett, manager of Rydell and Glacial Ridge refuges, said the Service will continue to use techniques such as prescribed burns and grazing to control weeds and manage the land, which will remain on county tax rolls as it has since TNC purchased the land in 2000.

“Everything has been restored, whether it’s upland or wetland,” Bennett said. “It will be an endeavor that will occur for a long time and maybe forever in trying to maintain these areas as prairie.”

He said the restoration is a testament to the benefit of partnerships, which in this case included TNC staff, NRCS, the Fish and Wildlife Service and local supporters.

“From my standpoint, it’s very exciting that the partnership was created, that the partners that were interested in tallgrass prairie habitat came together and put together this tremendous plan to restore some of that landscape,” Bennett said. “The last transfer is like one more hurrah in this process.”

n On the Web: For a closer look at the history of the Glacial Ridge property, check out The Nature Conservancy’s website at