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About McKay Creek

American Avocet & Black-necked Stilt

In the early 1900s, may people across the nation recognized that populations of migratory birds and other wildlife were dwindling. Thus, a strong national conservation movement developed and brought forth the establishment of wildlife preserves across the country in an effort to boost wildlife populations. As a result, McKay Creek National Wildlife Refuge was established by President Calvin Coolidge on June 7, 1927, as "a refuge and breeding ground for birds."


The 1,837-acre refuge overlays McKay Creek Reservoir, a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) storage facility, serving the irrigation needs of the Umatilla River Basin. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the lands, whereas the water levels are regulated by the BOR. At full pool the refuge consists of 1,300 acres of water and 537 acres of upland. By late September, an average of 250 acres of water remain at minimum pool. The reservoir relies entirely on run-off from the Blue Mountains feeding McKay Creek, so in poor snow years, the water supply can be limited; full pool has usually been reached, but this is a consideration in the face of climate change.

The refuge serves as a recreational mecca for residents of nearby Pendleton, Oregon, receiving over 50,000 visitors annually. The majority of visitors engage in fishing. Upland bird hunting is also popular, with many area hunters taking part in the annual pursuit of pheasant and quail. Other visitors simply enjoy bird watching, wildlife photography, or nature.

The McKay Creek National Wildlife Refuge is part of the Mid-Columbia National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which is comprised of eight refuges (Columbia, Cold Springs, Conboy, McKay, McNary, Saddle Mountain, Toppenish and Umatilla) and one national monument (Hanford Reach). With headquarters in Burbank, Washington, at the McNary NWR, the refuge complex stretches across the states of Oregon and Washington in 13 counties. Most staff are located at the headquarters, although some staff can be found at other refuges.

Page Photo Credits — American Avocet & Black-necked Stilt - Chuck & Grace Bartlett
Last Updated: May 14, 2014
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