John Puckett, founder of Caribou Coffee and co-owner of Punch Pizza, just gave South Dakota a gift that won’t fit under the tree. In fact, it’s full of trees. Puckett donated 580 acres located along Bitter Lake in Day County to South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks.
“It is America’s Serengeti just a few hours away from the Twin Cities,” Puckett said in a statement.
The Puckett family owned the land for over a decade and used it for hunting and camping before deciding to donate it to the Nature Conservancy, a global organization dedicated to sustaining land and water.
“We wanted the land to be open to the public and we needed to move quickly to donate it,” Puckett said. “The Conservancy is known for its ability to get things done and they worked with us to make it happen.”
The property is located within two significant regions, says Conservancy director Christopher Anderson. The Prairie Coteau encompasses the largest area of northern tallgrass prairie in the country and the Prairie Pothole is a magnet for mallards, blue-winged teal, canvasbacks, and other waterfowl. The land is also home to deer, turkey pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse.
“This piece of property is in the heart of everything outdoors and the department looks forward to taking care of the land for generations to come,” said Kelly Hepler, Secretary of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks in a statement. “These types of gifts don’t come around that often; so when they do, it is a reminder of how much we all value the commitment to our outdoor heritage in this state.”
The property has been added to South Dakota’s Redetzke and Bitter Lake Game Production Areas. It’s open to the public for hunting, fishing, hiking, birding, and other outdoor recreation.
The property has not yet been independently appraised, Anderson says. “We have assessed its ecological significance, and it’s tremendous. The land and waters provide outstanding habitat for migratory birds and waterfowl and it’s a great place to explore, enjoy wildlife and pursue outdoor recreation. We’re thrilled that we were able to help John and his family ensure the property will be managed for conservation and recreation.”
In South Dakota, the Nature Conservancy has protected more than 116,000 acres since 1961.