Denbigh Experimental Forest is located on 640 acres, 13 miles west of Towner, ND on Highway 2. In addition, there are 115 acres known as the Souris Unit located three miles north of Towner, ND on Highway 14.
Denbigh was established after the 1930s when the Dust Bowl hit McHenry County. The USDA Forest Service established the Denbigh Experimental Forest in 1931. Research was begun to determine what conifer or hardwood trees would survive in the area. Over the next 20+ years, more than 40 tree species were planted at Denbigh. In 1983, the Forest Service contracted maintenance and forest management responsibilities to the North Dakota Forest Service. However, all of these responsibilities were transferred back to the US Forest Service-Dakota Prairie Grasslands in 1998. Denbigh is now managed by the Sheyenne Ranger District office.
The southwest one-half of Denbigh Experimental Forest was planted to thousands of trees and shrubs between 1931 and 1942, while the remainder was left as natural prairie habitat. It is used by a variety of grassland birds, prairie butterflies, and wildflowers. Over 200 bird species have been recorded here, including the yellow-rumped warbler, northern saw-whet owl, sharp-shinned hawk, brown creeper, bald eagle, red-breasted nuthatch, and red crossbill. For the last 75 years, this area has been left idle leading to tree and shrub encroachment and the invasion of noxious weeds and exotic grasses. The Dakota Prairie Grasslands is working to restore the native prairie portion through noxious weed treatments, mowing, and prescribed burning.
Denbigh Experimental Forest is one of a kind, with no other areas like it in the Northern Great Plains. It provides a place for recreation activities including hiking, horseback riding, berry picking, cross-country skiing, birding and wildlife viewing, hunting, and much more. It is available for communities and local schools to use for “outdoor classroom” experiences. See Activities for detailed descriptions.
Associated with the Denbigh Experimental Forest, is the Towner State Nursery which was established in 1935 by the US Forest Service to produce tree seedlings for planting the proposed Souris National Forest. However, this National Forest, located just north of the Towner Nursery, was never established due to lack of funding. The nursery was closed in 1942 due to World War II and was re-opened in 1951 by the ND Forest Service who continues to operate it today. The Towner Nursery produces about 1.25 million tree seedlings per year.