Historical Perspective

Barn Photo

Ranches were established at Grays Lake as homesteads during the late 1800’s.


In 1908 the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) acquired private water rights and withdrawals of land in the Grays Lake basin for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes use in the Fort Hall Irrigation Project. In 1965, Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge was established as a 13,000 acre overlay refuge authorized by agreement with 22 Grays Lake landowners. In 1972 the Refuge boundary was expanded to 32,800 acres to include meadow and upland habitats outside the original Refuge boundary.

Hydrologic modification to Grays Lake began when Clark’s Cut was completed to drain the basin to the south in 1924 and the natural north outlet blocked by a water control structure. The current water drawdown schedule, based on the 1965 agreement among the BIA, FWS, and riparian landowners, requires rapid drawdown of water from above 6387.4 feet before May 10, to 6386.0 feet by June 24 each year. This annual spring drainage and drawdown removes all but 0.5 feet of water and compels this water level to be maintained through the summer and early fall. The unnatural hydroperiod causes this large montane wetland basin to go dry in many years. 

The First Residents- Archaeologists have concluded that the region’s native inhabitants were Shoshonean-speaking people. Evidence indicates they probably first inhabited the area in about 1650. 

Naming the Lake- Grays Lake was named after John Grey, a mountain man also known as Ignace Hatchiorauquasha. Grey was a member of a trapping expedition that explored the vicinity in about 1818. Even though the lake was named after him, it is not certain he actually ever saw it. 

Oregon Trail- The Lander Cut-off of the Oregon Trail passed along the south boundary of the refuge. Emigrants traveled it, from the 1860s to the early 1900s.