Down in southeastern North Dakota, the Sheyenne River winds through the Sheyenne Sandhills as though reluctant to part company. In this segment, the river receives its highest infusion of springwaters, and shade from the stateliest of its forests. H.R. Morgan Nature Preserve captures this secluded meeting of river and sandhills in its full spectrum of plant and animal life. Fragments of a cooler setting dating back to glaciation persist to the present along the Sheyenne River valley, in some ways more closely resembling what we identify with northern Minnesota than with eastern North Dakota. The stately basswood and elm forests, impenetrable thickets, beaver ponds, aspen groves and snaking oxbow pools are in the valley right below stunted oaks and grass-covered dunes.
The preserve contains an array of significant natural features: an undisturbed mature forest, a concentration of rare fern species and relatively extensive wetland habitat tied to riverine oxbows, short spring-fed tributaries dammed by beavers, and bands of alder thicket along the spring-fed wetland margins. The mature forest represents an excellent Sheyenne River stand which, in turn, represents some to the best development of eastern deciduous forest in North Dakota. All of the primary features are in the valley bottom or associated with groundwater seepage and springs near the base of the valley wall. Five state rare animals and seventeen rare plants have been discovered in these habitats. In these numbers are represented the highest concentration of ferns in the state and a notable orchid display. This is in addition to its wealth of game and fish resources and luxuriant array of more common plants.
Fourteen species of butterflies have been documented as occurring in and adjacent to the site. Eleven species of reptiles and amphibians have also been documented as occurring within the boundaries of H.R. Morgan; one species considered rare, the prairie skink.
H.R. Morgan (South) is perched below the Sheyenne River in a former oxbow of the river. It is bordered on three sides by steep wooded slopes which grade into sandhill deposits of the Sheyenne River delta. Fed by constant groundwater seepage, the site is underlain by a localized peat deposit. Shrub-dominated communities cover the site. H.R. Morgan (North) spans over a mile of Sheyenne River and extends from the Sheyenne sandhill uplands down to the floodplain forest lowlands. The dry choppy dune habitat is a striking contrast to the sheltered forest and extensive site wetlands. Mirror Pool, its original name, comes from the mirror-like quality of the central oxbow pool which, before a dam went out, was a favorite fishing hole.
State owned and managed nature preserves are open to the public for passive recreation, such as bird watching, hiking, and wildflower viewing. H..R. Morgan has a developed hiking and horseback riding trail. Although there are no facilities, camping is allowed except where posted.
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