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Dakota Nature Park is on the southern edge of Presho, just a bit west of I-90.
It sits on the northwestern corner of the intersection of 22nd Avenue South (a
north-south road) and 32nd street south (an east-west road...also "215th street"
in the statewide section road nomenclature). There are parking lots on both the
eastern and southern sides of the park. The eastern parking lot is just off of
22nd Avenue South, while the southern parking lot is next to the Larson Nature
Center building just off of 32nd street south.
16' 9" N, 96° 46' 36" W
(coordinate at the Larson Nature Center building on the far southwestern
corner of the park).
Dakota Nature Park is a 135-acre outdoor facility along the south side of
Brookings. South of Brookings are a number of very large gravel pits, some
of which are still active. Dakota Nature Park is built on land originally
occupied by both former gravel pits, and the old Brookings landfill. It's a
relatively new facility, with the old landfill capped and restoration
beginning in 2013. The reclaimed landfill sits on the northeastern
side of Dakota Nature Park, a very large grassy hill that overlooks the rest
of the park. The southern and western parts of the park are where former
gravel pits lie, with open water ponds and surrounding marshland vegetation.
A series of paved and unpaved trails winds through the park. One
advantage of birding Dakota Nature park...nearly every habitat type you can
typically find in eastern South Dakota is represented here. Grassland
dominates the reclaimed landfill. Four open water ponds are found in the
park, with more directly adjacent to the park boundaries. Cattails marsh and
wetland are found near some of the ponds. Deciduous forest is found in and
around wetland areas on the western side of the park and in several other
locations, while a strip of evergreen trees (pine) line the trail on the
The park is well populated with informative displays, benches for
resting, a covered pagoda here and there, and the large Larson Nature Center
building. With many of the trails paved, it's highly accessible. As I write
this (April 2019), some of the trails were slightly flooded after a winter
with a huge amount of snow, but personnel at the Larson Nature Center said
that was unusual. The trails are all flat, with the exception of the trails
up to the top of the reclaimed landfill. The Nature Center building itself
is very nicely done, with informative displays, interactive elements for
kids, and large windows overlooking a feeder complex.
Points of Note (Click on numbers on the map to see
information and photos for each location):
You can't go wrong walking any of the trails in and around the park, but a
good place to start is the Larson Nature Center building (Point 1 on the
map) on the far southwestern edge of the park, just off of 32nd street.
There's a large parking lot just south of the building. It will be the
busiest place in the park, but is also a good jumping off point for walking the
trails. It's a relatively large building, at over 5,300 square feet, and has
some nice displays and information about the park. Someone is usually on hand to
provide guidance. Of course one highlight of the Larson building itself are the
feeders in and around the complex. The north side of the building offers
comfortable seating and large windows that look out over the "Middle Pond", with
a variety of feeders just outside of the windows. Particularly on a relatively
quiet day with few visitors it's a good location to check on migrant and
resident songbirds that may take advantage of the feeder offerings.
Just to the west of the Larson Nature Center building is a trail that
heads west and then north through an area of deciduous trees, shallow ponds,
and wetlands. A boardwalk (Point 2) runs north/south on the
western edge of this small trail loop, overlooking a shallow pond and going
through some dense cattail marsh. The small shallow ponds and adjacent
wetlands may hold some of the typical wetland birds found in South Dakota.
Two small boardwalk offshoots jet into the wetland and allow closer looks at
birds in the open water of the ponds.
Point 3 is the reclaimed landfill itself, a towering
mound that's been capped and planted with grasses. A rather abrupt habitat
change from the surrounding treed areas, ponds, and wetlands, the grasslands
are large enough to attract some of the typical grassland species of South Dakota.
Point 4 are the ponds themselves. There are four main
ponds in the Dakota Nature Park itself. All of the four main ponds are deep
enough to attract waterfowl and wading birds, and fish are present in each
of them. East pond on the far southeastern corner of the park is the deepest
(and one also stocked with trout, which makes it popular with fishermen).
Island pond is the largest and does indeed have a small island in the
center. A covered shelter on the south shore of the island pond provides a
nice location to sit and watch birds on the pond. Middle pond is the one
that the north side of the Larson Nature Center building overlooks, while
North Pond is in the northwestern edge of the park. Note there's also a
complex of wetlands and shallow ponds on the west edge of the park (which
includes the area of the boardwalk in Point 2).
Finally, Point 5 is a paved trail on the northern edge
of the park that's part of a larger trail system. It's popular with bikers
and joggers, but the vegetation around parts of it make it unique for Dakota
Nature Park and worth checking out. The trail is bordered by pine trees at
certain locations which can hold different types of birds than may be found
in the deciduous woodland found elsewhere in the park.
Birds of Note:
With the variety of habitats found over the 135 acres of the park,
bird species have already been identified within the park. The mound of the
reclaimed landfill is a pretty large contiguous patch of grassland, and despite
being on the edge of town, can attract many of the typical grassland species in
South Dakota. There's also a large, open grassy area just to the west of the
park that can attract grassland birds. Species like
Bobolink have been seen here,
Field Sparrows and migrant
sparrow species. Tree Swallows
and Barn Swallows are common
summer breeding birds in and around the park, and can be seen foraging for
insects in the grassland areas. As with most grassland areas in the state,
Eastern Kingbirds are also
commonly seen here.
The deciduous woodlands, adjacent open grasslands, and interspersed ponds
and wetlands offer great habitat for a number of "edge" species.
Yellow Warblers are a
common sight and sound in the park, as are
Orchard Orioles nest here,
as do ever present (and ever-singing)
Gray Catbirds, and
House Wrens are common in
summer and often set the summer's background theme "music" in the park.
Eastern Phoebe are found
hanging out near the park's waterways.
The woodland and treed areas of the park hold traditional eastern US
forest species including
Northern Cardinal, Indigo
Bunting, Baltimore Oriole,
the occasional American
Black-capped Chickadees, Blue
Jays, Warbling Vireo,
Eastern Wood Pewee,
Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and
Woodcock can be heard (and seen) doing their early spring display
flights in open areas near woodland edges.
A walk along the ponds and associated wetlands might be punctuated by the
chattering of Belted
Kingfisher, or the cries of a
Wood Duck that takes flight as you walk past.
Green Heron are common, as are
Great Blue Heron. You
might find an elegant pair of
Common Yellowthroat lurking in the wetlands, or
Blackbirds calling from the cattails.
And of course you never know what less common species may show up.
Osprey have actually been seen
surprisingly often in recent years, leading to some speculation that they
may be breeding nearby (quite rare in the eastern part of the state).
Caspian Tern have been seen
here, as have
and Bay-breasted Warbler
are other species that have been seen here on rare occasions.
Other Birding Locations (sorted by distance to
Dakota Nature Park):