Come celebrate National Grasslands Week this week by experiencing all the Pawnee National Grassland has to offer.
From hiking to birding to stargazing, there is something on the grassland for everyone. The Pawnee National Grassland (PNG) is one of 20 national grasslands, located in 13 states. These 193,060 acres of prairie are located in northern Weld County.
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The PNG is often identified by the Pawnee Buttes that jut out more than 200 feet from the prairie floor. The Pawnee Buttes Trailhead is a four-mile, round-trip trail that introduces visitors to this geological find that is located on the eastern side of the grassland. Foot or animal traffic is welcomed, but mountain bikes are prohibited.
Wildflower viewing is great in spring and early summer on the Pawnee. The prairie evening primrose is still in bloom, along with the greenthread, western wallflower and tansy aster. The prickly pear cactus is just starting to show its vibrant colors as well.
People travel to the PNG from all over the globe to experience first-class birding. More than 300 bird species have been seen on the grassland. Although the time has passed for most migrating birds, many nesting birds are still making the PNG their home. Swainson, red-tailed, and ferruginous hawks, as well as Lark Buntings and burrowing owls, are just a few birds visitors may spot. Get out early in the morning or later in the afternoon for the best viewing. There is also a bird tour with interpretive signs on the PNG.
In addition, shooting enthusiasts have the chance to go to the Baker Draw Designated Shooting Area which is located near the intersections of Weld County Roads 96 and 63. The area provides 25, 50, and 100-yard shooting opportunities. More information is online at www.fs.usda.gov/goto/arp/bakerdraw.
Other opportunities for enjoying this local gem include driving the Pawnee Pioneer Trail Scenic and Historic Byway and camping under the starry sky. The Byway takes a traveler north of Briggsdale, off State Highway 14, through much of the PNG, and back down to Highway 14. Those choosing to head off the main routes should know many of these roads can become virtually impassable if the area has received recent rain.
The Crow Valley Campground on the west side provides a developed area to set up your tent or RV. Dispersed camping is also a popular activity on the PNG. There is a mixed land ownership pattern on the PNG, so pick up a map.
Before heading out everyone should stop by or call the PNG Visitor Information Office at 660 O Street in Greeley (970-346-5000) or visit our website: www.fs.usda.gov/main/arp/home. Remember, facilities are limited on the grassland. Bring plenty of water and have a full tank of gas before heading out.