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Scenic Lake Roads closed

Now that the school year is finished and the temperatures have risen, it should be time to enjoy spring and summer activities on the national wildlife refuges in the area.

6/08/11 (Wed)

The portion of the Scenic Lake Road going north through the refuge
is closed, as is the south scenic route.


Public access to refuges limited by excessive water


Now that the school year is finished and the temperatures have risen, it should be time to enjoy spring and summer activities on the national wildlife refuges in the area.


However, access to some of the great fishing holes, hiking trails and driving routes is extremely limited right now, after two months of melting snow and rain showers that have saturated the ground, pushed water levels to historic highs, and eroded hillsides and roads.


At the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge near Kenmare, local residents and visitors alike have been frustrated to discover the Scenic Lake Road is closed.


Running south from Kenmare to U.S. Highway 52, the gravel road has been submerged in places where the lake flooded it.


Heading north from Kenmare to the Boat Dock area, the road has been closed to accommodate crews and equipment still working to repair damage to the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks from slumping hills. That work is expected to continue for the next few weeks as the slopes are rebuilt.


Chad Zorn, refuge manager at the Des Lacs NWR, expects to discover more problems as the water recedes. “We may see a lot of structure, dike and dam damage, especially on the south end of the refuge,” he said. “We just don’t know what we’ll find yet, but both roads are closed at this time until the water goes down and we can assess the damage.”


Normally, the scenic road provides access for bird watching, observing wildlife, hiking and biking, but refuge visitors will have to postpone those plans. The picnic tables and restrooms at the Boat Dock area are also closed.


Jennifer Jewett, education and outreach coordinator at the Des Lacs NWR, said Tasker’s Coulee is open, with some limitations. “Not all the trails are accessible, like they usually are,” she said, adding that the bridge has not been set in place yet because the creek is running so high.


Recent rains left puddles and pools standing in several parts of Tasker’s Coulee, but Jewett said the picnic shelter has generally been unaffected and is open for public use.


The Canada Goose Trail on the east side of the refuge, running north from Kenmare, is open to foot traffic right now. Hikers are cautioned about the high level of the lake in that area. Wood ticks are also commonly picked up there during the spring months.


Jewett has had to explain the current situation to many disappointed visitors. “All the refuges around here have limited access right now,” she said.


She encouraged local and out-of-town visitors to the Des Lacs NWR to contact refuge headquarters at 701-385-4046 ext. 221 to ask about access. The Des Lacs office is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 am until 4:30 pm, except for federal holidays.


“It’s best to call ahead right now so they’ll know exactly what is and isn’t open, and to find out if anything changes,” she said. “It all depends on how soon we can get out there and start repairing things.”


Fishing access

limited at Lake Darling

Access at Lake Darling changes daily, according to Jacey Peterson, office clerk at the Upper Souris NWR. As of Tuesday morning, Landings 1 and 3 were both closed, as was the Outlet Fishing Area.


The spillway ramp was open, but under water. Grano and Greene were open, with ramps still under water.


“You can launch at your own discretion,” Peterson said. “I have heard of people fishing off the bridge at Grano and having good luck.”


The Auto Tour Route on the Upper Souris NWR is open to drivers for wildlife viewing and birding. “We’ve had a lot of visitors there,” Peterson said, adding that the Tour Route closes daily at 10 pm.


Hiking trails on the Upper Souris refuge are open, but Peterson cautioned visitors that the trails may be saturated. Very little trail maintenance, including mowing, has taken place yet this spring.


The refuge headquarters and visitor center is open Monday through Friday, 8 am until 4:30 pm, and guests are welcome to stop. Visitors and fishermen are encouraged to call the headquarters at 701-468-5467 to check the status of boat ramps before coming to Lake Darling to fish.


Peterson noted the high water is expected to last through most of the summer at this point. “The boat ramps and Outlet Fishing area will be under water for a while,” she said.


Birding festival still

scheduled for June 10-11

The annual Burke County Birding Festival will take place as scheduled at the Lostwood NWR west of Kenmare on June 10 and 11, despite the fact the Auto Tour Route is closed.


Wildlife biologist Connie Mueller said water has covered the road in three places along the route. Two separate piping plover nests have also been observed on the gravel road. “Threatened species call the shots in a refuge,” she said, laughing.


The birds normally nest on open, graveled shoreline near a body of water. “That shoreline doesn’t exist this year,” Mueller said, adding that the plovers have to settle for gravel roads instead and make the most of their short nesting season. Piping plovers actually start their migration south from this region in August.


According to Mueller, some visitors to the refuge have been walking in on the Auto Tour Route from the north side to observe various bird species and are welcome to do so. Refuge personnel are not allowing people to walk in from the southern side of the route, however, because of the piping plover nest locations.


Lostwood NWR headquarters is open and accessible, and the parking lot is providing some of the best birding on the refuge this year. “The headquarters wetland is full,” Mueller said. “We have a lot of people birding from the parking lot. I know it sounds lame, but it’s actually good birding!”


The schedule of events for the weekend’s birding festival has not been changed. However, some of the locations for the tours will be different, including Friday morning’s tour which will take birders into the Lostwood Wilderness Area on a road normally closed to the public.


On Saturday, birders will leave the refuge and travel to White Earth Valley for a tour. The family-friendly, shorter “Safari Tour” at the refuge itself is also planned for Saturday.


Anyone intending to visit Lostwood NWR should first call 701-848-2722 to check on access at the refuge, with conditions frequently changing this year. Mueller said signs are now posted at the refuge about the road closures.


She encouraged persons planning to attend the Burke County Birding Festival to check the schedule online at for updated information.


Anyone can attend the festival events, but pre-registration this week would be appreciated in order for festival organizers to prepare food and arrange bus seating for the participants. Pre-registration can be done online at