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The Grand River National Grassland (NG) located in northwest
South Dakota and one of four grasslands in the Dakota Prairie
Grasslands, is 155,000 acres interspersed with 46,000 acres of
private lands - see map below. There are no developed
campgrounds. The grassland is administered by the Dakota
Prairie Grasslands office. The authors visited Grand River
during July 2009.
The Missouri Plateau of the Great Plains is a combination of
rolling hills, river breaks, and scattered badlands. Mixed grass
prairies dominate this landscape. Wooded draws occur where
ground water is near the surface. Winding through this landscape
is the Grand River on its way to the Missouri River. Farms and
small communities dot the area and this is where Grand River
National Grassland (NG) is located.
Although there are no developed campgrounds in the Grand River
NG, there are a wide variety of recreational opportunities
available. Wildlife viewing, rock hounding, photography,
birdwatching, hiking, and horseback riding are just a few
activities visitors to Grand River NG can enjoy. One popular
location to picnic, fish for Rainbow trout, and explore the
eight-mile Blacktail trail, is at the Blacktail trailhead, south
of Lemmon, SD, along State Route 73.
Most visitors to the Grand River National Grassland see its
beauty but don't realize the history that took place there. The
native people wandered across this land, hunting and gathering
the bounty of the prairie. In the early 1800s, the white man
come. One of those was Hugh Glass. This scout, trapper, hunter,
Indian fighter, and adventurer, was seriously mauled by a grizzly
bear in 1823. The story goes Glass was left by his companions
for dead but he wasn't. After re-setting his broken leg and
making a crude carriage that he used to drag himself along on two
elbows and a knee, Glass traveled overland some 100 miles in two
months to the Cheyenne River. Here he fashioned a dugout and
floated down the Cheyenne River to Ft. Kiowa were he completed
his recovery. Another colorful character who traveled through
the area was General Custer on his way to the Black Hills of
The areas now designated as "grasslands" were settled in the
1800s under a variety of "Homestead Acts" which opened the land
to people, generally farmers, and helped to settle the west. A
prolonged period of drought in the late 1920s into the 1930s
caused some homesteads on sub-marginal farmland (a location
receiving 15 or less inches of annual moisture) to literally dry
up and blow away. During this time, Congress established the Land
Utilization Program (LUP) which bought homesteads from bankrupt
private owners and returned it to public land status. The
Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) helped to stabilize the eroding
soil by re-seeding it and applying other conservation techniques.
In the 1950s, the LUP holdings were assigned to the USDA Forest
Service which was tasked with management of these sub-marginal
lands. Over the years the Forest Service has established some
twenty national grasslands. "The designation of the area as
National Grassland is not a description of the area as much as a
statement of policy and effort to restore the area to a multiple
of uses and benefits."
There are no restrictions on dispersed camping within the Grand
River NG. Campers should bring their own water and firewood and
practice "Leave no Trace" techniques. One possible location is
in Pasture 8 (GPS coordinates - N45 43.152, W102 15.355).
Recreational opportunities in the Grand River National Grassland
may not be highly developed but that does not reduce the
potential for making your own fun and discovering all that a
grassland has to offer.
240 W. Century Ave.
Bismarck, North Dakota 58503
RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESS
1005 5th Ave West
Lemmon, South Dakota 57638