Timeless Tewaukon

A field of spring wildflowers at Tewaukon National Wildlife Refuge is one of many beautiful views visitors can take in. The refuge is located in southeastern North Dakota along the western edge of the northern tallgrass prairie, about five miles south of Cayuga in Sargent County. The Wild Rice River flows through the refuge and into Lake Tewaukon.

The Tewaukon National Wildlife Refuge, located five miles from Cayuga, North Dakota, functions as a nursery to thousands of migratory birds and amphibious animals. On Friday, June 26, the refuge celebrated 75 years of operation since its inception in 1945.

Kristine Askerooth has been a biologist at the refuge for 30 years. There are also three permanent staff members, which include ground maintenance, seasonal workers, and law enforcement. Askerooth hopes that by the end of the summer there will be three more permanent positions.

She also wants people to celebrate the 75 year anniversary of the refuge.

“Wildlife conservation is the practice of protecting animal species and habitats. It is achieved partially through legislation such as the Endangered Species Act, the establishment and protection of public lands, and responsible public practices that conserve wild animal populations,” according to the Wildlife Conservation - National Humane Education Society.

The Tewaukon National Wildlife Reserve was established on June, 26, 1945. The land was purchased from local landowners beginning with 512 acres. The landowners were interested in preserving the area’s natural features and wildlife opportunities, according to the Tewaukon website.

Now the Tewaukon refuge encompasses 8,343 acres of grasslands and wetlands to provide nesting sites, food, and shelter for a variety of birds and fish, which include songbirds, wading birds, waterfowl, and shore birds.

The anniversary was a little different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We hope that people will come out to the refuge, we have a hiking trail, so we hope people will come out and hike the trail,” Askerooth said. “We hope people will come out and go fishing. We have an auto tour route so we hope people will come out and look at wildlife.”

As of right now there are fawns and ducklings, so there is a lot of wildlife for people to see, Askerooth said.

The refuge is doing things on Facebook, such as discussing the history of the area and the refuge they also have a partnership with Chahinkapa Zoo, Wahpeton.

“The first 75 people who came got a coupon for free Dippin’ Dots, and that is sponsored by our friends group, the Prairie Pothole Partners,” Askerooth said. “So they were sponsoring it, and we also had a bingo game for the kids to play and they turned that into a prize.”

Despite quarantining, the refuge offers a place to get back to nature without the concern of social distancing.

“We’ve had more people fishing and hiking and visiting the refuge during the COVID than we’ve had for a long time,” Askerooth said. “We were really happy that we could provide some mental and emotional relief, so people could come and get some quiet time out in nature and get outside if they are tired of watching Netflix.”

During the pandemic, the refuge has been a place where families can fish and enjoy the wildlife without fears of crowded spaces and exposure to the COVID-19 virus. The flowers and grassland provide a beautiful backdrop to spend time together and exclude technology from their lives in these uncertain times, there is plenty of room to explore.

The refuge requires a prodigious amount of upkeep by staff to control or eliminate invasive species, ensuring water management, and grazing cooperation, which affect the acreage. The refuge uses a mix of grazing and controlled fires to keep the prairies healthy with these methods the prairies can evolve and remain healthier. Every three to four years this kind of maintenance is needed to keep the grounds and native flowers healthy.

Fire is the most important tool to keep the grassland healthy, Askerooth said.

“When you look at a wildlife refuge we have to manage for thousands of different species,” Askerooth said. “And they may need different things in a way, the Western Meadowlark likes its vegetation less than a foot tall and likes areas that have a lot of insects versus the Gadwall duck that needs very thick vegetation for nesting.”

Refuges are known for their diversity many species of wildlife and horticulture make up the 8,343 acres of the Tewaukon refuge.

People come from all over the country for bird watching. They come as far as New York, Tennessee, and Arizona, Askerooth said.

Another major draw to the refuge is fishing, guests are even encourage to catch the invasive carp for consumption.

“You can catch and keep your fish here, there’s no size limits,” Askerooth said. “There’s perch, there’s northerns, walleyes.”

According to the Tewaukon website, the refuge is “A Place for the People.” Now that summer has begun and social distancing is a common practice, the Tewaukon National Refuge is ready for families to step outside of their houses and enjoy nature in a peaceful environment.

You can contact the Tewaukon National Wildlife Refuge at https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Tewaukon/map.html.

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