Fifteen miles west of Towner is a recreation area some in the area might not be familiar with: the Denbigh Experimental Forest.
"It's really a hidden jewel in the area," said Glenda Fauske, information and education coordinator for the North Dakota Forest Service in Bottineau.
The 636-acre arboretum and experimental forest is officially operated by the Forest Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was created in 1931 during the Great Depression and was ultimately used as a place to grow trees to determine which species would be best suited to grow in the harsh climate of the Great Plains and used in shelter belts to reduce wind erosion and dust storms. Up until about a decade ago, it was also the primary seed source for the forest service's tree nursery at Towner.
The U.S. Forest Service maintains old buildings at Denbigh, but they are not in regular use.
"Presently we think the best use of Denbigh is for education and opportunities for kids to learn about forestry," said Bryan Stotts, district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, stationed in Lisbon. Fauske said that local schools and Dakota College at Bottineau often use the site for educational purposes. "We are developing it into an outdoor education classroom," she said.
The forest has species of trees from all over the northern hemisphere, many of them labeled with their names and the year they were planted. Among the species planted there are Siberian larch, Scotch pine, Rocky Mountain pine, juniper, ponderosa pine, cottonwood, spruce and aspen trees.
"Many schools from Minot and Girl and Boy Scout Troops go out there and use the facilities," said Fauske.
The Forest Service built a 3-mile, non-motorized trail around Denbigh that people can use to bike, hike, or ride horses on, said Stotts.
"We always take the kids on a walk through the forest," said Fauske.
The site also has cabins on site that can be put to use as a classroom or a place for people to stay if they must work at the site. There are also toilet facilities, said Stotts. There aren't any picnic tables there, said Fauske. Fauske said there were problems with picnic tables being stolen from the site. If one is installed there again it will probably need to be a concrete enclosure.
Fauske said at some point the U.S. Forest Service plans to build an outdoor amphitheater using some of the downed timber that has been cut to thin the forested areas. Fauske said that amphitheater might not be built until next year. The project was delayed by last year's flooding, which also hit Denbigh Experimental Forest.
Both Stotts and Fauske said the Denbigh Experimental Forest is also a favorite spot for bird-watchers in the area.
"It's a good bird-watching spot because of the pines," said Stotts. "We attract a lot of interesting species for North Dakota."
Stotts said the U.S. Forest Service is working on putting together a book about bird-watching available in the area.
The spot is also a prime location for hunting.
"A lot of people hunt there for deer and turkeys," said Stotts.
Stotts said the experimental forest gets steady use, even if there aren't a lot of people there most of the time.
Fauske said she encourages families to go up there and see what is available.
"It's just a wonderful place for people to get away and explore and hike," said Fauske. "We encourage families to get out there and get that exercise and fresh air and get unplugged from technology. Explore the forest."