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Crescent Lake
National Wildlife Refuge

Amidst the sea of dry, brown grasses, a wetland exists where the sandhills dip below the water table.
10630 Road 181
Ellsworth, NE   69340
E-mail: cresentlake@fws.gov
Phone Number: 308-762-4893
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Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge is a vast sea of mixed-grass habitats with wetlands found where the sandhills dip below the water table.
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Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is located approximately 28 miles north of Oshkosh, Nebraska. The Refuge was established in 1931 to help conserve waterfowl populations. It is located at the eastern edge of the Nebraska panhandle in Garden County, on the southwestern edge of the 19,000 square mile Nebraska sandhills.

The sandhills are characterized by continuous grass and forb-covered dunes and swales and are considered to be the largest body of sand in the world that is not a desert. Where the swales dip below the water table, sub-irrigated meadows, marshes, and lakes have formed. In most cases, no stream systems exist between wetlands. Many lakes are maintained solely by underground water sources.

The 45,849-acre Refuge is largely grasslands dotted with hundreds of permanent, semipermanent, and temporary wetlands. It is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) as part of the Crescent Lake/North Platte National Wildlife Refuge Complex. The Complex headquarters is 100 miles to the west in the city of Scottsbluff, Nebraska.

Getting There . . .
Crescent Lake NWR is located approximately 28 miles north of Oshkosh, Nebraska. From U.S. Highway 26, turn north on West Second. Proceed north out of town (oil road will convert to gravel), and follow directional signs to the Refuge headquarters. From U.S. Highway 2, turn south just east of Lakeside, Nebraska. Follow directional signs to the Refuge headquarters (approximately 28 miles).

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Wildlife and Habitat

Nebraska includes 413 species on its official bird list, 279 of which occur on Crescent Lake NWR.

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The Nebraska Sandhills were settled largely as a result of the Kincaid Act of 1904, a modification of the Homestead Act to allow settlers 640 acres in "less productive" areas.

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Management Activities
A "sea of grass in a sea of grass" best describes Crescent Lake NWR. The Refuge has largely recovered from past overgrazing, and grazing is now used an important habitat management tool. Today, native prairie management consists of a combination of rest, grazing, and prescribed burning.

The Refuge contains about 8,251 acres of wetlands. Manipulation of water levels is possible on nine of the lakes and is used to control shoreline vegetation in order to create open shoreline for migratory birds.

Hayden's penstemon, also known as blowout penstemon, is Nebraska's rarest plant and is the only endangered plant on the Refuge. This plant is unique in that it depends on non-vegetated sand surfaces, or blowouts, for its existence. Reactivation of some blowouts has been attempted and seedlings from the University of Nebraska have been transplanted to historic sites.

In 1972, 24,502 acres of the Refuge were proposed for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System. Congress has not acted on that proposal. In the intervening years, the area has been managed to maintain and improve the wilderness characteristics that existed at the time of the proposal.