Thursday, September 3, 2009

Greycliff Prairie Dog Town State Park

Prairie Dogs at dusk!

We couldn't resist the promise of the Greycliff Prairie Dog Town State Park exit sign on Interstate-90 just west of Billings.  I envisioned a state-of-the-art "live" prairie dog town exhibit, along with a visitor center with sophisticated displays and a gift shop crammed with plush toys.

Not here.

The only evidence of human presence (aside from Tom and me) in this tiny park was minimal:  a kiosk with a park map and rules, a dirt driveway, a couple of picnic tables by a parking area and 3 metal "interpretive" signs.

The fenced area (and beyond) was dotted with craters. Prairie dogs were all over the place.  I had to be careful not to hit one with my car.

The behavior of these little rodents, however, was very different from the doggies at the Badlands.  They seemed very leery of our car, and us - when we got out to read the metal signs.   

It was an odd and jarring experience, seeing this "keystone" prairie species, relegated to a 98-acre fenced "pen" adjacent to a noisy interstate highway, with cars and trucks zooming by in the background.

As we got back on the interstate with the sun setting in the west, we couldn't help but notice several prairie dogs, sitting upright on the shoulder of the highway - outside the park "boundary."  Yikes.  How many would be (or had been) hit by cars? 

I got an inkling the next day, when I met with the Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks employees who managed this park.

When I told them I'd stopped at Greycliff, they laughed, and shook their heads.  "Out here, you know, they're varmits."  

"One of our staff was out at the park the other day and actually ran over one with his car."

Montana State Parks:  Real Montana.  Real Close.

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