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Sully’s Hill

On this date in 1911, the Department of the Interior submitted a request to Congress for $2,500 for the improvement of Sully’s Hill National Park. While the area was designated as a National Park, Congress had never appropriated money for its improvement or protection. The Superintendent of the Indian School at Fort Totten kept an eye on the property, but the park had no staff.

Located on the shores of Devils Lake, Sully’s Hill was designated as a national park in 1904 by Teddy Roosevelt. It was named after General Alfred Sully, but the park was remote, lacking riverboat or road access, and it had no buildings or other improvements. Consequently, it received few visitors. In fact, Roosevelt himself never visited the spot.

It made more sense to repurpose the land, so in 1914 the park’s designation was changed to a National Game Preserve. Congress transferred management to the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1931. It is one of only seven national parks to be disbanded.

The area’s 1,674 acres is home to a small herd of bison, with the population kept to about 20 animals in keeping with the available land. In 1917 fifteen Rocky Mountain elk were introduced. This herd is kept to fewer than 18 animals. In the autumn the bull elk can be herd calling loudly to attract cows. Prairie dogs also make the park home. The colony was introduced in 1975 to provide an educational experience for visitors about the playful rodents that dig intricate underground dens and tunnels.

It is estimated that up to 270 species of birds can be found at Sully’s Hill. It’s both a breeding ground and a stopover site for migratory birds. Among them are the yellow warbler, the pileated woodpecker, and night herons.

The preserve includes a variety of habitats, with woodlands, mixed-grass prairie, and wetlands. It is a popular destination for photographers. There are two miles of hiking trails, and a four-mile drive that takes visitors through all the habitats. Observation decks offer good views of the wildlife. There are also interpretive and educational programs provided by rangers.

And even in winter the park is quite an attraction, with snowshoeing on the 2nd & 4th Saturday, January through March. Bring your own camera, but the snowshoe rental is free!

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


Bismarck Daily Tribune. “Ask Appropriation for National Park at Sully’s Hill.” 14 December 1911. Bismarck ND. Page 1.

Sully’s Hill National Game Preserve. “About the Preserve.” https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Sullys_Hill_National_Game_Preserve/about.html   Accessed 9 November 2018.

National Parks Traveler. “Pruning the Parks: North Dakota’s Sullys Hill National Park.” https://www.nationalparkstraveler.org/2010/04/pruning-parks-north-dakota’s-sullys-hill-national-park-1904-19315743  Accessed 9 November 2018.

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