This area boasts intact grasslands, significant prairie dog populations, and significant potential for black-footed ferret reintroduction. The overall area is 4 million acres or 1.6 million hectares. Site priority is rated “very high”.
Species of biolgical concern include the mountain plover, swift fox and black-tailed prairie dog. Lark bunting is a focal species.
The Conservation Alliance of the Great Plains, based in Lincoln, NE, has published a proposal for the conservation of this region. (See “Prairie Preserve” on their menu bar.) The National Geogpraphic has excellent photos of some of the area’s wildlife.
THUNDER BASIN (WY)/OGLALA GRASSLAND (NE)
|U.S. Forest Service|
|Oglala National Grassland||95,000||39,000|
|Department of Defense||1,000||400|
Thunder Basin stretches from the pine-covered slopes of the Black Hills southwest across vast grasslands to Douglas, WY. For those people wanting to get away from it all, you can’t get much farther! Stretching across hundreds of square miles of prairie with scarcely a dirt track for access, Thunder Basin has wilderness big enough for almost anybody.
But there is more! The grassland extends east across into Nebraska, where the region is better developed for recreation. Facilities include trails, campsites and interpretive sites.
Landscape - Very large tracts of grassland with few roads.
Vegetation - Largely intact native plant community, ranging from pine to shortgrass prairie.
Wildlife - Mainly grazed by cattle, but with pronghorn and elk; many prairie dog towns.
Highway 59 takes visitors north from Interstate 25 at Douglas, WY. Good asphalt roads lead along the perimeter, with services available at Douglas and Newcastle. A few dirt roads give dry-weather access to most parts of the site, but visitors are advised to prepare as though they will be spending the night!
The Oglala National Grassland has good access on paved Highway 2 north from Crawford, NE. Fort Robinson State Park (308 665-2900) has full facilities, including an extensive trail network. Nebraska National Forest, just south of Chadron, NE, has extensive grasslands to explore, with natural ponderosa pine along Pine Ridge.
People are free to hike throughout the area on the extensive Forest Service land, but you should check a map carefully to ensure you are not on private land. For multi-day outings, I would suggest using a mountain bike with trailer to get supplies, including water, to a campsite, then hiking out from there. A week-long trip would allow for several changes of campsites.
Cycling - The dirt roads look very attractive for double-track cycling. Nebraska National Forest has excellent and extensive single-track mountain bike trails developed.
Horseback riding - Excellent riding throughout the area, but check to find stock watering sites.
Canoeing - None in this area, although the Niobrara River just a couple of hours east, at Valentine, NE, is very popular.
Pronghorn and prairie dogs are the wildlife highlights. Several locations have been identified for reintroduction of Black-footed Ferrets, but this has not occurred yet due to an outbreak of distemper. A good selection of dryland wildflowers and birds can be expected, and the area supports a very high density of golden eagles. Mammal and bird checklists are available.
Camping - Random camping is allowed, but bring your own water!
No information has been received about aboriginal sites in the area.
Fort Robinson State Park and Agate Fossil Beds National Monument have extensive historic interpretive programs, and several historic trails passed along the southern boundary. (California, Oregon, Mormon Pioneer and Pony Express National Historic Trails)
Coal mining is a growing industry, with several very large mines near Bill, WY. Coal is removed on a busy railway near Highway 59, on the west side of the area.
Lead agency - U.S. Forest Service - 2250 East Richards St., Douglas, WY 82633; ph. (307) 358-4690 - detailed maps and other brochures are available.
Political climate - National Grasslands are generally becoming more supportive of recreation in recent years.
A checkerboard mixture of private and public land has presented difficulties in achieving efficient management of the region. U.S. Senator Mike Enzi has made a personal initiative to bring stakeholders together to develop a collaborative management plan. The Thunder Basin Grasslands Prairie Ecosystem Association is a new but important player in this process.
Current challenges - A lack of water limits non-motorized recreation in the area.