The Des Lacs Valley was formed by meltwater flowing out of glacial Lake Regina thousands of years ago. Bison, beaver, muskrat, mink, and other furbearing animals lured French trappers to this valley. They foud it so flat that the river spread out in a chain of marshes and lakes. They called the area, "Riviere des Lacs," French fo River of the Lakes.
Settlements in the late 1800's brought intensive farming, ranching, and coal mining. The face of the land changed, and some wildlife species declined. Drought during the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s caused water numbers to plummet to record low levels. In response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge in 1935, one of many national wildlife refuges set aside during the 1930s and '40s to help migratory birds and local wildlife.
Des Lacs Refuge Today
Des Lacs NWR encompasses more than 19,500 acres along the Des Lacs River from the Canadian border to a point 8 miles south of Kenmare, North Dakota. A mix of natural lakes and managed wetlands in the valley provide a haven for migrating and nesting waterfowl and marsh birds.
Spring visitors can enjoy the courtship dance of western grebes. Four other species of grebes also nest on the Refuge. During the summer, American White Pelicans are easy to spot as they feed on small fish. Broods of ducklings of various ages paddle through the marshes. Giant Canada geese commonly nest on the Refuge producing between 150 and 200 young annually.
Each fall, a blizzard of white descends on the Des Lacs Valley, but it isn't an early snowstorm! The Refuge has become a major migration stop for lesser snow geese and tundra swans. The city of Kenmare holds an annual "Goosefest" to celebrate the spectacle. Thousands of ducks and shorebirds complement the goose migration. This is an excellent setting to view bird concentrations found only in a few places in the United States.