Refuge managers are often called upon to accomplish many tasks. This is certainly true at remote Red Rock Lakes NWR, located three hours from any reasonable sized city or supply center.
Landscapes of Red Rock Lakes, the Centennial Valley and neighboring Madison Valley hold some of the grandest scenery on earth. On glorious work days, manager Bill West may schedule a survey flight to monitor species targeted for management, or those of special concern. With biologist Jeff Warren, West will scan a maze of lush wetland habitat for Trumpeter Swans and Moose, studying a system still revealing its complexities. Back on the ground there are reports to write and directives from Denver and Washington-based staff to heed.
When the national Refuge Roads Coordinator asked all refuge staff to pay more attention to the condition of roads, regional staff and Mike Parker, past refuge manager, took this directive to heart. West inherited teh project and has since overseen a $700,000 project to improve access to Lower Red Rock Lakes. Refuge visitors will now more reliably be able to reach a primitive campground, boat launch and water impoundment structure as construction is wrapping up this week. He is proud of the project; one of three such projects in Montana designed to improve access to public land and paid for with Federal Highways funds. The other two sites are Montana’s Beartooth and Glacier National Park’s Going to the Sun Highways.
Crews have spent much of a year on what was often an impassible five mile stretch of road. They’ve allowed water to channel through new culverts and over concrete-lined water fords. With large equipment they’ve raised the roadbed, removed muck, and filled up to ¾ mile stretch of road at a time with gravel. A goal of the project was not to change the width or overall footprint of the road in keeping with the wilderness character of the refuge.
This project is done, but on completion, the workers won’t be going home. West was ‘shovel-ready’ this year as projects were called out for possible economic stimulus funding. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act another $116,000 has been awarded to Red Rock Lakes to fund an important access link to another part of the refuge. Visitors will now have safe passage to walk to Sparrow Pond and Slough. A new bridge will be placed over Odell Creek where a condemned bridge precluded staff vehicle access to water control structures. These were needed to regulate flows to several ponds and wetlands, some which may benefit nesting Trumpeter Swans. Much of the future of Greater Yellowstone’s declining Trumpeter Swan population will be determined by productivity on this western side of the ecosystem. Dedication, attention to an opportunity such as the stimulus funding and a wide-gamut of behind-the-scenes work are all needed in the effort to secure this vulnerable population. This week at work, West will witness a parade coming down the road from Monida, one with a new bridge and the crane to emplace it.
Photo from a survey flight - by Bill West, Manager – Red Rock Lakes NWR