A wildlife refuge in western North Dakota earns its own merits next to a well-known park – The Dickinson Press


KILLDEER, ND — Best known for Theodore Roosevelt State Park in Medora, the western edge of North Dakota has more to offer in the form of Lake Ilo National Wildlife Refuge.

Located in Dunn County, just outside of Killdeer, Lake Ilo sits west of the Missouri River and comes with over 4,000 acres of land. Including the wetlands surrounding the lake, the refuge is home to over 200 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish combined. It is one of 33 wildlife refuges in the state.

Surrounding the lake are three trails where visitors can take in views of the lake and surrounding land and observe the unique wildlife that western North Dakota has to offer.

The country is not lacking in history. It was first occupied by Paleo-Indians, some of the earliest known settlers in North America, around 13,000 to 25,000 years ago. They had to deal with the rapidly changing environment after the ice age.

The entrance to Lake Ilo National Wildlife Refuge in Dunn County.

Race Archibald / The Dickinson Press

Plant and animal life was very different from what it is today as they sought to survive. These groups traveled frequently through the region, hunting big game like mammoths, bison, and beavers, which at the time grew as large as today’s black bears.

Some of their remains of stone artifacts have been found on the refuge, as well as in other nearby areas. These tools taught today’s scientists and archaeologists what the Paleo-Indian way of life looked like in the form of their craftsmanship.

US Fish and Wildlife personnel were given more access to land in 1989 to further explore the area and learn about Native American life from years ago.

The lake itself was formed from a dam built in 1936 near Spring and Murphy Creek. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order in 1939 that made Lake Ilo a habitat for migrating birds and other wildlife.

The condition of the dam deteriorated in the 1980s and new construction was required. This lowered the lake 7 feet.

Some of the common wildlife found on the refuge consists of white-tailed deer, pintails, great blue herons and sandpipers.

Of course during the winter, activities and wildlife are limited. Freezing temperatures and blowing snow make it a relatively quiet place. The only remaining activity, however, is ice fishing. Portions of Lake Ilo are open to those wishing to continue the popular summer activity.

Northern pike, the state fish of North Dakota, can be found in these waters. Known at times for their aggressiveness, these fish live in shallow waters overgrown with weeds, but are also found in colder, clearer waters. Other fish found in the lake are yellow perch and walleye.

Shore fishing is permitted year-round, and once the ice has melted, boats are permitted on the lake from May 1 through September 30.

It’s a unique location and a stark contrast to what Theodore Roosevelt National Park has to offer to the southwest. Visitors looking for a hike around a lake with a chance to spot captivating wildlife will certainly enjoy their stay at Lake Ilo National Wildlife Refuge.


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