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Benton Lake
National Wildlife Refuge

Purple clouds fill the sky as numerous bolts of lightning illuminate the prairie landscape.
922 Bootlegger Trail
Great Falls, MT   59404
E-mail: bentonlake@fws.gov
Phone Number: 406-727-7400
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A summer lightning storm rolls across the prairie at Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
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Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Covering 12,383 acres (19 square miles), Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is located on the western edge of the northern Great Plains, 50 miles east of the Rocky Mountains and 12 miles north of Great Falls, Montana. Despite its name, Benton Lake is actually a 5,000 acre shallow wetland created by glaciers thousands of years ago.

The gently rolling terrain of the Refuge is dominated by native shortgrass prairie and surrounded on three sides by mountain ranges. The main marsh on the Refuge has been subdivided into eight impoundments by a series of dikes and water control structures; this allows efficient water management and provides a diversity of habitat types.

Getting There . . .
To get to the Refuge, follow Highway 87 (Havre Highway) north out of Great Falls for about a mile and turn left onto Bootlegger Trail. Go about 9 miles to the well-marked Refuge entrance on the left.

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These driving directions are provided as a general guide only. No representation is made or warranty given as to their content, road conditions or route usability or expeditiousness. User assumes all risk of use.

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Wildlife and Habitat

Benton Lake NWR is truly an oasis for water birds. During spring and fall migrations, up to 150,000 ducks, 2,500 Canada geese, 40,000 snow geese, 5,000 tundra swans, and as many as 50,000 shorebirds use the marsh.

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The Refuge is also home to the largest breeding colonies of Franklin's gulls and white faced ibis in Montana.

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Management Activities
Water still flows from the original pump station on Muddy Creek, but the Refuge wetlands have been further divided for more efficient water management. An interior pump system allows movement of water from one Refuge unit to another as needed, and is especially useful in the event of a waterfowl disease outbreak. Water levels are kept fairly shallow to produce an optimum mix of aquatic plants and insects for wildlife. Marsh vegetation is managed by periodic burning to recycle nutrients and rejuvenate marsh vegetation.

Several thousand acres of native prairie on the Refuge are managed by prescribed burning while former farm fields have been seeded to a mixture of grasses and forbs preferred by ground nesting birds and other wildlife. The farm fields are rejuvenated approximately every 5 years by haying, burning, grazing, or farming and reseeding to keep plant growth tall and dense.