Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge
Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was established in 1935 as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. The refuge is located in Bennett County in southwestern South Dakota. The refuge lies in the shallow Lake Creek valley on the northern edge of the Nebraska Sandhills and includes 16,410 acres of native sandhills, sub-irrigated meadows, impounded fresh water marshes, and tall and mixed grass prairie uplands. The refuge is the home of the High Plains trumpeter swan population, which now totals more than 450 birds. Providing critical wintering habitat for the High Plains trumpeter swan population is a primary refuge goal. The refuge hosts one of the only two nesting colonies of American white pelicans (approximately 3,000 birds) within South Dakota. The refuge serves as an important staging area for migrating Canada geese, other waterfowl, sandhill cranes, shorebirds, and neotropical migrants. Black-tailed prairie dogs and burrowing owls are common in the uplands, and bald eagles are frequent winter visitors. The needs of wildlife come first in the refuge. The refuge has an autotouring route and walking trails for wildlife viewing. There are also opportunities for environmental education. Hunting and fishing are allowed in designated areas and are strictly regulated.
Boats with motors are not allowed on the Trout Ponds.
The concentration of wetland, grassland, and cropland found on and adjacent to Lacreek NWR provides habitat for a very diverse bird population. A total of 282 different bird species have been recorded at Lacreek NWR since 1959. The majority of bird species common to the Great Plains can be found here, along with some unique species for South Dakota. Trumpeter swans were released at Lacreek in the early 1960s. A high count of 386 was recorded in November of 2007, with 100 to 300 typically present from October through March. Lacreek NWR is one of the few places in South Dakota where you may hear both an eastern and a western meadowlark while standing in the same location. American bitterns are commonly observed at Lacreek NWR from April through September. Fifty-one species of waterfowl, pelicans, cormorants, herons, and ibises use the refuge for migration and/or nesting. Fourty-four species of rails, plovers, turnstones, sandpipers, stilts, and gulls have been documented on the refuge. Of those, 16 species nest here. Twenty-five species of hawks, falcons, eagles, and owls hunt the refuge's abundant prey base. The federally endangered whooping crane migration corridor passes over Lacreek NWR. Whooping cranes have been documented using the refuges wet meadows in recent years during both the spring and fall migration. They generally stay only one night and then continue on. Lacreek has one nesting pair of bald eagles that has successfully fledged at least one eaglet in 2006 and 2007. Up to 100 bald eagles may be present during December through March when large concentrations of waterfowl or winter killed fish are present.
The refuge has a 4.5-mile auto tour route that originates at the visitor center. Large numbers of trumpeter swans and other waterfowl may be observed from October through March. Visitors may also see white tailed deer, ring necked pheasants, and many other species depending on the time of year. The main refuge road from headquarters to the northeast entrance also passes several wildlife observation hotspots, including a large prairie dog town, the pelican nesting islands, and two of the refuges largest wetlands. The refuge roads that travel to the Trout Ponds and the west side of the refuge to the Brown Ranch are open to public travel and provide additional opportunities for wildlife viewing from a vehicle. All of these roads are gravel and the conditions for travel deteriorate quickly after rainfall or snowmelt events. Check with refuge headquarters for information about road conditions.
Fishing is allowed within designated pools on the refuge. Fishing for rainbow trout is available at the Trout Ponds. These ponds are generally stocked once in early spring and once in the fall. Boats with motors are not allowed on the Trout Ponds. More fishing is available in the Little White River Recreation Area (LWRRA). Fishing is also allowed in Pools 3, 4, 7, and 10, although few game fish are available in these areas. Primary management emphasis is for migratory birds, and most pools are partially or fully drawn down during some portion of the year. The use or possession of baitfish is prohibited on Lake Creek, which includes Pools 3, 4, 7, and 10. A no wake zone exists on Pools 3, 4, 7, and 10 within 500 feet of the shoreline.
Bowfishing is allowed on all refuge waters open to fishing. The harvest of snapping turtles is also allowed in all areas currently opened to fishing and within 300 feet of all refuge roads and service trails that are open to public travel. The use of seines, nets, and traps are not allowed. There are no refuge permits required for fishing, bowfishing, and harvest of snapping turtles. A valid South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks fishing license is required, however.
The refuge has two hiking trails: the Pelican Island Trail and the Bird Trail. The Pelican Island Trail is located 2.5 miles north of the visitor center. The trail is an easy 0.25-mile hike. This walking trail provides visitors with the rare opportunity to view American white pelicans nesting on two islands within Pool 9 on the refuge. During late April and early May, visitors will see thousands of white pelicans located on these islands. There are great blue heron, snowy and cattle egret, double crested cormorant, and black crowned night heron rookeries on the islands as well. By late August, all of the young will have fledged and moved on. In addition, visitors will likely see many different species of waterfowl, shorebirds and other birds, both resident and migrants, depending on the season. The Bird Trail starts at the refuge's headquarters and makes an easy 0.25-mile loop around the display pond. Large willows, cottonwoods, and other shrubs often provide the opportunity to observe warblers and other birds species not commonly found in the area's grasslands and wetlands.
Visitors may explore other areas of interest, including the auto-touring route, by foot, .
Lacreek's history is forever tied to the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Progress Administration (WPA) era of the mid-1930s. With the country experiencing severe unemployment, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, after only two days in office, created the CCC as a means to employ young men ages 18-25 to work in forests, parks, and rangelands. In addition, young men working under the WPA planted thousands of trees and shrubs on the refuge.
Archery hunting is permitted in specific areas of the refuge. Legal species are white-tailed deer and mule deer. A South Dakota state archery license and a free special refuge permit are required. Muzzle-loader hunting is permitted within specific areas of the refuge. The only legal species is white-tailed deer. Participants in this hunt must have a state license for refuge muzzle-loader deer. Upland game hunting is permitted within specific areas of the refuge. Legal species are ring-necked pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse.
The habitat provided at Lacreek NWR supports a wide diversity of mammals that are commonly found on the Great Plains. The refuge's wetlands host species such as muskrat, beaver, mink, short-tailed and long-tailed weasel, raccoon, white-tailed deer, and meadow voles. The grasslands support species such as mule deer, black-tailed prairie dog, badger, deer mice, Ord's kangaroo rat, white-tailed jackrabbit, thirteen-lined ground squirrel, and coyote. The federally threatened American burying beetle was documented as occurring in Bennett County in 2007. Past surveys of the refuge have not detected this species. Suitable habitat and the nearby sighting makes it likely that American burying beetles may be found on the refuge and have yet to be detected. Although swift fox releases have been made to the west of Lacreek NWR, only one probable sighting has been documented on the refuge.
Different seasons provide different opportunities for birdwatching in the refuge. In the winter, visitors may see High Plains trumpeter swans. In the fall and spring, visitors can see migrating Canada geese, other waterfowl, sandhill cranes, shorebirds, and neotropical migrants passing through the area.
Lacreek NWR is located 12 miles southeast of Martin, South Dakota. From Martin, drive south on Highway 73 for about 4 miles. Turn left onto a gravel road and go east 1 mile, south for 1 mile, then east 7 miles to the Refuge headquarters. Directional signs are located along this route.