BISMARCK, N.D. – The Pembina Gorge State Recreation Area (PGSRA) will be developed into North Dakota’s 14th state park with funding secured by the North Dakota Parks & Recreation Department (NDPRD) during the 2023 legislative session, Gov. Doug Burgum announced today.
Development of the park will include underground utilities, roads, an approximately 35-site campground, six all-season, full-service cabins, a comfort station, shop and seasonal staff accommodations at a cost of approximately $8 million. Future development of the park may include a visitor center with indoor and outdoor learning areas and retail and office space.
The 2023 Legislature approved $6 million dollars for the new park facilities. The additional $2 million for the initial development will come from a matching federal Land and Water Conservation Fund grant. Burgum recommended funding for the Pembina Gorge campground project in his executive budget proposal in December.
“The Pembina Gorge is one of North Dakota’s most beautiful areas, offering an incredible array of recreational activities including canoeing, hiking, biking, horseback riding, skiing, snowmobiling, hunting and birdwatching. Establishing our 14th state park in the Pembina Gorge will elevate its status as a must-see destination and provide additional opportunities for visitors from North Dakota and beyond to experience all that this special area has to offer,” Burgum said. “We are deeply grateful to the Legislature, our state Parks & Recreation Department and all the local and regional stakeholders whose tireless work and passion for the Pembina Gorge helped bring this vision to reality.”
The PGSRA opened to the public in 2012. Since opening, the recreation area has expanded its trail system to include 30 miles of trails open to hiking, equestrian and OHV use as well as a parking area and vault facilities at the trail head.
In 2017, NDPRD secured an additional 165 acres near the recreation area for future development of a campground. Throughout 2022 and 2023 the department has been working with an engineering firm to develop preliminary plans and drawings for the new state park.
The development of the Pembina Gorge into a state park has been a more than 10-year effort that continues to be supported by public and private partners. The project was started through a master planning effort that was completed in 2014. This plan was created to establish and guide a long-term vision for visitor experience, facility development, resource conservation and management of this property.
The love for the Pembina Gorge runs deep through the Rendezvous Region of northeastern North Dakota, across the state and across borders. A top destination for adventure seekers, the PGSRA encompasses 2,800 acres of public land in the scenic Pembina River Gorge. With steep valley cliffs towering over small, isolated prairies and pocketed wetlands surrounded by the largest continuous, undisturbed forest in North Dakota, the area’s unique beauty offers many reasons to visit.
“The Pembina Gorge is a pristine area that holds incredible promise,” said NDPRD Director Cody Schulz. “With over 1.2 million people within a two-hour drive, the Pembina Gorge and this state park will spur additional tourism to the area. We are grateful to the Legislature for this generational investment into the project. Our vision is to enhance and grow the area into an overnight destination property that draws visitors throughout all four seasons.”
As one of the primary drivers of tourism, outdoor recreation contributes significantly to North Dakota’s economy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, it accounted for nearly $1.4 billion in economic activity in the state. In 2020, state park visitation alone contributed $154 million to the state’s economy and supported 1,850 jobs.
By adding overnight accommodations and destination property amenities, per-person visitor spending is expected to grow substantially. Visitor spending increased from $86 for single-day visitors to nearly $460 for multi-day visitors to the North Dakota state park system in 2020. The upgraded level of service and amenities, in addition to increased winter recreation opportunities, improves the region’s tourism and economic development, impacting the entire state.
North Dakota’s most recent development of a state park was in 1989 when Cross Ranch State Park opened near Center.