By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News
Posted 6/25/14 (Wed)
When it comes to nature and the environment, western North Dakota’s footprint continues disappearing rapidly and is turning into a gargantuan industrial park that encompasses a third of the state.
Despite that there are still some spots that offer a similar unspoiled beauty of nature that explores La Verendrye and Lewis and Clark found when they first came to what is now North Dakota.
One of them is the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge that circles Des Lacs Lake on the west and south sides of Kenmare.
The refuge has been there many years, but I’ve never appreciated it until several weeks ago when I was on an assignment that took me to the refuge and numerous places within it.
As everyone knows Kenmare received up to 7 inches of rain on June 1. It caused a lot of damage that included a road and a culvert washed out on the refuge.
Both roads involved had been closed so I couldn’t get to the damage in a vehicle. So I walked and walked and walked, all the while looking at the surroundings that we really never see when we are driving on roads near the refuge.
I’ve always enjoyed the Des Lacs River Valley and after walking several miles that Monday afternoon, have gained a new appreciation for a place that hasn’t yet been tainted by oil development.
The lake itself is a marvel to see. Not a large lake by any standard, but big enough to catch your attention.
Down the road south of Kenmare, which has been turned into a Scenic Backway, the hills become more pronounced, a bit steeper, harder to climb, but with all those prairie grasses and flowers that you would expect to see on a summer day on the high plains.
Visitors to the refuge are able to take the Scenic Backway south to Munch’s Coulee and that’s where the road is closed.
That’s about five miles south of Kenmare so Munch’s Coulee can still be enjoyed, but going beyond is prohibited because that is where a culvert is washed out and has taken a part of the road with it.
There’s really no reason to go any further. Pull your car into the parking lot at Munch’s Coulee and take a hike in the bush.
A paved trail takes you into the coulee about a mile and that’s where you really see the unspoiled beauty because trains on the west side of the lake and traffic from U.S. Highway 52 on the east are hidden from view.
One of the things I still miss about living in Langdon, and I’ve been gone 15 years now, was being able to leave my office during a stressful day, taking a short drive to the Pembina Gorge and hiking through the bush, sometimes taking me right up to the Canadian border.
The Pembina Gorge is more rugged than the Des Lacs River Valley south of Kenmare, but the principal is the same, there’s no industrial complex, there’s no noise, no aircraft, seldom will you see a car and nature the way it was intended.
And if you’re not aware of what you might encounter, take the five-mile trip south of Kenmare and see for yourself.
Birds, from blue jays to mallard ducks; animals that some people have never seen like the marten, the mink or the moose; prairie flowers that you’ll wonder how they can even survive, but they do and they seem to thrive.
There’s also wild berries on the bushes and plenty of water holes where you’ll find turtles sunning themselves on the rocks and you might cross paths with an occasional snake.
Raccoons, porcupines and skunks work at night so you most likely won’t see them, but if you do, run. If you see any of those animals during the day, chances are they’ll have rabies and you’ll need to avoid them.
You may see a fox or coyote and it’s almost a guarantee you’ll run across deer.
After hoofing it through the valley that day, I know I’m going to take more hiking trips in the Munch’s Coulee area and other spots along the Des Lacs River Valley from now on.
We should all do it more often. It’s so close to Kenmare, it’s practically in our back yard.
It’s good exercise, you’ll see a lot of flora and fauna that you won’t see in town or on the highway so take a camera and photograph what you see and then you’ll have more than just a memory of what you witnessed.
You should also take water with you because the area is primitive and there are no water wells or relief points.
Go out there, take a look and enjoy it. There’s so much to see you probably won’t see it all in a day.