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Copyright 2012 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

Riding the Vast Prairie Under the Big Sky

By Dorinda Troutman, RMR Staff Writer. 

Photos courtesy American Prairie Reserve.

 

June 2012 issue

 

Photo by Gib Myers.

 

      In the 1800s, artists, explorers, trappers and American Indians described an endless sea of grass and bountiful wildlife in north central Montana — huge herds of bison, deer, elk, bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope, and also prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets, swift fox, eagles, falcons and hawks — a diversity of plant and animal life equal to the African Serengeti.

      Imagine riding your horse across such an expanse of prairie, and seeing the kind of wildlife that people did in the 1800s.

      The American Prairie Reserve (the recently renamed American Prairie Foundation) is attempting to recapture that 1800s experience of big sky, immense quiet — except for a curlew’s call or the drumming of sage grouse — and wide-open country with plenty of wildlife. Horseback riders are welcome to ride on and enjoy the Reserve’s 123,000 acres of deeded and leased land (and growing) — with hardly ever a fence in sight.

 

      Purebred plains bison were reintroduced to the Reserve in 2005 after an absence of more than 120 years. With new arrivals and calves, the herd now numbers in the hundreds and is contained on 14,000 acres within the Reserve. Horseback riders are also welcome to ride within the bison range.

      There are gravel and dirt roads on the Reserve (which can be impassible during rainy weather), and a primitive campground with 11 sites, non-potable water and toilets.

      Horsepeople may stay in the campground, bring a portable corral for their horses, certified weed-free hay or feed, and ride out from there; or pack in and camp overnight pretty much where they please, and hobble their horses to graze. Numerous stock reservoirs, wooded draws with creeks, potholes, and the occasional corral allow water for horses while riding.

      Points of interest to see while riding include the tiny, one-room Prairie Union School, a Native American buffalo jump, views of the Missouri River and Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, petroglyphs, and lookouts used by Lewis and Clark.

      Although the winter of 2011 was especially hard on the large migrating antelope herd, expect to see pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, bison and other large ungulates. Other wildlife that can be seen includes swift fox, prairie dog towns, sage and sharp-tailed grouse, and more than 230 species of birds. Prairie wildflowers are especially prevalent in spring and early summer.

 

Riders pass near the one-room Prairie Union School on the Reserve. Photo by Gib Myers.

      Camping is open May 15 through November 1, with a fee of $10 per night. Spring and fall are ideal riding seasons due to hot mid-summer weather and little shelter.

      Go to americanprairie.org for maps (APR is currently made up of a patchwork of land with three main areas), camping regulations, directions and more information. Call 877-273-1123 or email mail@americanprairie.org to arrange your trip. Please keep in mind that this is a very remote area — more than an hour avay from any medical facilities — so take necessary precautions for a fun and safe trip.

 

 

Photo by Dennis J. Lingohr.

About the American Prairie Reserve

     Since 2001, the American Prairie Reserve is part of a three-million acre area that lies above the Fort Peck Reservoir on the Missouri River in East-Central Montana, and is adjacent to the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument , Montana State Land and BLM Land .

     APR aims to create the largest and newest wildlife reserve in the lower 48 states by purchasing 500,000 acres in order to link more than three million acres of existing public lands for an eventual complex of 3.5 million acres.

     So far, nearly every family who has sold land to APR still lives in the region; no displacement of ranching has occurred; and in Phillips County , where APR has most of its land holdings, cattle numbers have increased from 80,000 to 88,000 head in six years since the APR has owned land there. Most of the land, minus 31,000 acres currently set aside for bison, is leased for cattle ranching.

     When APR completes the land purchases, the linked lands will provide the best possible habitat and enable the area’s wildlife to range in a large open landscape — one of the largest in the lower 48 states.

     Much of APR’s deeded lands will be placed in conservation easements. The Reserve will always have public access and be open for a variety of public uses including wildlife watching, photography, camping, hiking, bicycling, horseback riding and hunting (28,000 acres are enrolled in the MFW&P Block Management Hunting Program, plus 84,000 acres of public grazing-leased land is open for hunting).

            APR is non-profit and receives about 90% of funding from individuals in 46 states, and 10% from foundations. Twenty percent of donors live in Montana .

 

Copyright 2012 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

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