Wetlands Trail Loop
The path you are about to take will enable you to experience a wetland. This wetland was first brought to you compliments of a beaver that dammed the effluent stream feeding from the hatchery. With the completion of the dam, a wetlands was formed which provided homes to a wide variety of birds, mammals, fish, plants, and insects. As you move along the path, take frequent stops to observe your surroundings. Allow yourself to become relaxed and listen to the sounds of nature. Along the route are interpretive signs that will assist you with wildlife identification. Benches and a waterfowl observation blind have been provided for your enjoyment.
The water in this wetlands flows from the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery. The wetlands serve as a natural filter to purify hatchery effluent water. Organic nutrients from fish waste provide the lush growth you observe in the surrounding trees and vegetation. Plankton, the microscopic plants and animals, also thrive on the nutrients and provide the start of the food chain.
Throughout the spring and summer months the wetlands give birth to broods of wood ducks and Canada geese. The great blue heron will most likely be seen fishing along the water’s edge for an unsuspecting trout. This wetland is the home of several mammals as well. White-tailed deer, mink, raccoon, muskrat, skunk, and of course, beaver, are some of the animals you may see along the trail.
In the fall, the water flow from the hatchery attracts migrating salmon which are on a spawning run from Lake Oahe. Visitors on the trail in October may be fortunate enough to witness 10 pound salmon leaping the log diversions placed in the narrow constrictions along the stream.
In the winter months the wetlands remains open from the water heated at the hatchery for fish production. The open water provides a late winter refuge for migrating ducks and geese which in turn attract bald eagles. The waterfowl observation blind will give you an opportunity to watch ducks and geese by the hundreds as they stage here on their journey south.
Lewis and Clark Trail Loop
Garrison Dam NFH has a unique story to tell relating to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The Lewis and Clark Trail parallels the Missouri River only a few miles upstream of the historic winter campsite at Fort Mandan near the present town of Stanton. On the morning of April 7, 1805, the expedition broke its winter camp and continued its journey west. Lewis and Clark passed by here that morning in a large wooden sailboat called a pirogue. Along the journey the explorers relied on their hunting and fishing skills to survive. No doubt a few of the 2,800 fish hooks taken along on the journey were lost in this stretch of the Missouri River in pursuit of a meal of sauger, or as Lewis described them “a fish of white colour.’ Obviously a few of the explorers were able fishermen as several fish species were captured and identified in the journals. The scientific name for interior cutthroat trout, Oncorhynchus clarki lewisi and the coastal cutthroat, Oncorhynchus clarki clarki were so named in honor of the men who first described these fish. Garrison Dam NFH currently produces several species of fish including cutthroat trout for stocking into the Missouri River. The hatchery also plays a vital role in the recovery of the endangered pallid sturgeon, a fish species present during the time of the expedition and now facing extinction.
The Lewis and Clark loop offers an experience quite different from that on the Wetlands loop. This trail meanders through a floodplain cottonwood forest and offers up glimpses of the Missouri River and its high banks to the west. The river they saw on their trek through this country was shallow and turbid with flows changing through the seasons and periodic flooding. The Sioux people aptly dubbed the river ‘The Big Muddy.” This river was home to an assemblage of odd looking fish such as the pallid sturgeon, paddlefish, blue sucker, channel catfish, sauger and shortnose gar. These species had evolved to the flows of a muddy raging river, unimpeded by dams and diversions.
The Missouri River we see today looks very different then the river explored by Lewis and Clark. Looking upriver along the trail the Garrison Dam embankment and powerhouse stand out as a sign of what engineering has achieved over the past century in taming the ‘Mighty Mo.’ In fact the lake impounded by the dam, Lake Sakakawea, was renamed as a tribute to the Expedition’s Shoshoni Indian guide Sacagawea.
Along the trail take an occasional glimpse into the overhead cottonwood canopy. The cottonwoods are home to nesting bald eagles, cormorants and turkey vultures. You’ll also notice several fallen trees. The beaver also enjoy the art of dam building and have used the trees you see here for food, shelter and dam construction materials.
Enjoy your outdoors experience. Take only photographs...Leave only footprints.