N.D.’s only recognized waterfall highlights ‘Seven Wonders of Ransom County’The state’s only recognized natural waterfall — and the scenic river valley, dense hardwood forests, rolling sand hills and sprawling tall grass prairies surrounding it — stand in stark contrast to the flat, open terrain of much of eastern North Dakota. So much so that the woman who created Ransom County’s website dubbed this area’s features the Seven Wonders of Ransom County.
By: Mike Nowatzki, Forum Communications
FORT RANSOM, N.D. — On the Zambezi River in southern Africa, a sheet of water more than a mile wide plummets farther than the length of a football field to create Victoria Falls, a spectacular sight recognized by CNN in 1997 as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
Across the Atlantic, hidden deep within the 509-acre Sheyenne State Forest about an hour’s drive southwest of Fargo and another hour’s hike in, an underground spring spews a gentle stream of mineral-rich water over a muddy cliff about 8 to 10 feet to a creek below.
“It’s not exactly Niagara Falls,” said Bob Harsel , stewardship manager at the state Forest Service office in nearby Lisbon.
Maybe not, but the state’s only recognized natural waterfall — and the scenic river valley, dense hardwood forests, rolling sand hills and sprawling tall grass prairies surrounding it — stand in stark contrast to the flat, open terrain of much of eastern North Dakota.
So much so that the woman who created Ransom County’s website dubbed this area’s features the Seven Wonders of Ransom County.
Last week, Harsel and his coworker, forest technician Lorin Fornes , guided a Forum reporter and photographer on the 2.2-mile, roughly 5,000-step hike to the waterfall.
The trail is part of the North Country National Scenic Trail, which when completed will stretch 4,600 miles across seven states from Lake Sakakawea in western North Dakota to Crown Point, N.Y., making it the country’s longest continuous hiking trail.
The North Country Trail is counted as one of Ransom County’s seven wonders, with segments in the Sheyenne State Forest and two other “wonders” – Fort Ransom State Park and the Sheyenne National Grasslands.
‘Best kept secret’
The state Tourism Department calls the waterfall “one of the best kept secrets among adventure seekers that are from or have come to North Dakota.”
“It is one of the sacred attractions of the state and a great hiking adventure for all!” says a blog post on the department’s website.
However, you won’t find the waterfall on North Dakota’s official highway map. Another of Ransom County’s seven wonders, Dead Colt Creek, a manmade 113-acre recreational lake south of Lisbon that offers camping, fishing and boating, also is conspicuously absent from the map, adding to the mystery of the seven wonders.
The waterfall trail is open to hikers, bicyclists and horses. No motorized vehicles are allowed.
The entrance to the trail is about 9 miles west and 4 miles north of Lisbon.
Parks officials and volunteers spent part of 2008 “benching” the trail, smoothing it out and removing overgrown vegetation. Aside from a few rocks and tree roots the only obstacles on the trail last week were horse apples and the occasional muddy stretch where horse hooves had sunken into the soft ground along a creek.
Shrubs and weeds of all types line the grassland segments of the trail. Purple and yellow coneflowers bloom brightly in the sunlight, while a clump of fern-like smooth sumac grows chest high like palm trees.
About halfway to the waterfall, shortly after passing the first of the forest‘s two primitive campsites, the trickling sound of Mineral Springs can be heard about 20 feet off the trail. As one walks down to the springs, the metallic smell of iron-rich water flowing over reddish deposits hangs in the air.
“People drink out of it, but I can’t guarantee the safety of it,” Harsel said of the springs, which flow from the base of a tree.
“Even in ’88, when it was so dry, it was still flowing here,” Fornes said. “It’s pretty much permanent.”
Patches of oak, ash and box elder trees shade the trail between the upland grasslands, while the canopy shifts to basswood and elm in the stream bottoms. Frogs hop out of the way of hikers and squirrels scurry across the forest’s underbrush.
A sign informs of the waterfall 400 feet ahead, followed by a fork in the trail: horses to the left, hikers to the right.
The waterfall beckons with a constant splash before it’s visible. After 2.2 miles and about 5,000 steps on the trail, as one enters the clearing of the second campsite, the visual reward is a spring-fed brook being split into three parts as it falls over the cliff.
“You wouldn’t think you were in North Dakota,” Fornes said.
The waterfall flows year round, freezing into picturesque ice formations in the wintertime.
Forest Service officials prefer that people don’t cross the stream to touch the waterfall, because it’s an ecologically fragile area. Campers must carry out everything they carry in.
The trail currently ends at the waterfall, but efforts are in the works to extend the trail two to three miles to Fort Ransom.
Harsel said he wouldn’t rate the waterfall hike as easy, but his grandson was able to make the trek when he was 7 or 8 years old.
Hikers are advised to bring bug spray to repel the ticks that populate the trail, especially in early summer. The tick count drops off in the fall, when hikers enjoy the added benefit of leaves turning color.
On the hike to the waterfall, in a pasture-like clearing where an old barbed-wire fence along the trail harkens to the livestock that grazed the land decades ago, a wild dog of some sort bounds across the tall native grasses into the woods. It almost looks too big to be a coyote, and Fornes mentions that some people claim to have seen wolves here.
Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
For more information about the Seven Wonders of Ransom County, visit www.ransomcountynd.com.