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Officials want public’s ideas to expand Pembina Gorge recreation offerings

The Pembina Gorge is a 12,500-acre expanse along the Pembina River between Walhalla, N.D., and the Canadian border. (Photo supplied by the North Dakota Parks Department)1 / 2
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Some 24 miles of multiuse trails built in the past three years have attracted a few thousand outdoor adventurers to the Pembina Gorge State Recreation Area, a natural scenic wonder tucked away in the Pembina Hills of northeastern North Dakota.

Now, state officials are hoping to expand the trail system and to develop new attractions to lure even more visitors. And they’re seeking suggestions as they develop a master plan, which should be completed by the end of September.

While a schedule has not yet been determined, the state agency plans to host a series of public workshops and meetings.

“It could be more multi-use trails. It could be a campground, or hiking trails,” said Mike Duerre, Pembina Gorge manager. “We have our own ideas, but we really want to hear what the public wants. We’re trying to get some good direction on where to take it to.”

While primitive camping is available, the recreation area does not have modern camping facilities.

The Pembina Gorge is a 12,500-acre expanse along the Pembina River between Walhalla, N.D., and the Canadian border. It is recognized as one of the largest uninterrupted blocks of woodlands in North Dakota and the state’s the longest segment of unaltered river valley.

Spreading the word

Approximately 5,500 people used the trail system in 2012, its first full year. While the numbers decreased last year, largely because of weather-related issues, officials are anticipating a rebound this year, as more people learn about the opportunities.

The privately owned Frost Fire Ski Area provides skiing and snowboarding in winter, while Frost Fire Summer Theater, an outdoor amphitheater that hosts summer productions. This year, it will feature “Smokey Joe’s Café,” a Grammy-winning musical that features songs such as “On Broadway,” “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock” and “Stand By Me.”

In 2012 and 2013, the recreation area hosted Extreme North Dakota Racing’s END-AR24, a grueling 24-hour adventure race that includes biking, hiking and canoeing.

While the trail system was designed to accommodate off-highway vehicles up to 60 inches wide, it also is open to hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders.

The trail system, which has been developed since 2011, is a result of a 2005 study, Master Plan for Trail Development in the Turtle Mountain and Pembina Gorge Areas.

“That provided a real broad spectrum,” Duerre said. “This narrows it down to the Pembina Gorge. It’s more specific to this area.”

The master plan is being developed by Great Outdoors Consultants, a Fort Collins, Colo., company. A project website and a Facebook page also will be developed, according to Duerre, to keep the public informed of the progress.

The gorge is home to 30 plant species and more than 480 series of plants, 21 animal species, including the state’s only naturally occurring herd of elk, and more than 75 species of birds.

It also features a 75-to-80-million-year-old fossil site containing Mossasaurs (giant sea lizards) and other prehistoric birds, fish, squid and other fossils.

The recreation area also includes Tetrault Woods State Forest, located south of Walhalla, N.D., which is about 110 miles northwest of Grand Forks.

Kevin Bonham

Kevin Bonham covers regional news, mostly from northeast North Dakota, for the Grand Forks Herald. A North Dakota native who grew up in Mandan and Dickinson, he has been a reporter or an editor with the Herald and Forum Communications for more than 30 years. Find his articles at: He welcomes story ideas via email,, or by phone, (701) 780-1110.  

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