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Experts offer free prairie tours in northwestern Minnesota

A group of natural resources experts are teaming up to offer a variety of field trips July 11-12 to the prairies of northwestern Minnesota. Leading the tours will be the Minnesota County Biological Survey, the Natural Sciences Department at the U...

A group of natural resources experts are teaming up to offer a variety of field trips July 11-12 to the prairies of northwestern Minnesota.

Leading the tours will be the Minnesota County Biological Survey, the Natural Sciences Department at the University of Minnesota-Crookston and the Minnesota Native Plant Society.

According to trip coordinator Nancy Sather, an MCBS ecologist originally from Fosston, Minn., northwestern Minnesota's tallgrass aspen parkland is too diverse to be explored on a single trip. As a result, a variety of shorter mix-and-match tours are planned to enable people to choose the experience that best matches their interests and schedules as well as the level of difficulty of the trip.

The level of difficulty is based on a combination of the distance covered and ruggedness of the terrain.

Participants can choose from among the following tours.

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July 11

9 a.m. -- Agassiz Dunes Scientific and Natural Area near Fertile, led by UMC Instructor Rhett Johnson (moderate hike). No preregistration required. Meet at the parking lot of the Sandhill Drive Inn, 605 South Mill St., Fertile.

9 a.m. -- Count Western prairie fringed orchids near Fertile, led by MCBS ecologists Nancy Sather and Derek Anderson (difficult, working hike). Preregistration is required.

10:45 a.m. -- Aspen parkland near Karlstad, led by MCBS Ecologist Robert Dana. The trip continues through the afternoon (difficult tour and hike). Preregistration is required.

1:30 p.m. -- Thorson Wildlife Management Area near Fertile, led by Rhett Johnson (moderate hike). No preregistration required. Meet at the parking lot of the Sandhill Drive Inn, 605 South Mill St., Fertile.

1:30 p.m. -- Western prairie fringed orchids near Fertile, led by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources ecologists and Native Plant Society members (family friendly hike). No preregistration required. Meet at the parking lot of the Sandhill Drive Inn, 605 South Mill St., Fertile.

July 12

9 a.m. -- Aspen parkland, led by MCBS ecologist Robert Dana. The trip visits multiple sites, continuing through the afternoon (difficult tour and hike). Preregistration is required. Meet at the DNR Area Wildlife office, 202 Main St. N., Karlstad.

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9 a.m. -- Natural communities along the historic Pembina Trail ox-cart route through Marshall, Pennington, Red Lake and Polk counties, led by Nancy Sather (family-friendly auto tour with several short stops). No preregistration required. Meet at the entrance to Old Mill State Park, 33489 240th Ave. N.W., Argyle.

Maps to tour sites will be distributed at the starting point. Participants are responsible for their own transportation. All trips involve some walking off trails for distances of a mile or more. Everyone is encouraged to wear solid shoes, long pants and sun protection.

All tours are free, but space is limited. To preregister, send an e-mail listing the tour or tours you plan to attend or leave a voice message at (651) 259-5136. The registration deadline is 5 p.m. July 7.

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