Nature On the Wing: Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge


Waterfowl hunters are used to buying a federal Duck Stamp in order to pursue their passion but all wildlife lovers benefit from the money collected.

Senator Lee Metcalf, who grew up in Stevensville, Mont., was instrumental in getting federal Duck Stamp money in 1964 to buy up 2,800 acres, creating the Ravalli National Wildlife Refuge. In recognition of Metcalf, who was always committed to conservation, the refuge was renamed The Lee Metcalf NWR in his honor in 1979.

Authorized primarily for the management of migratory birds, especially waterfowl who use both the many impoundments on the refuge as well as the wetlands surrounding the Bitterroot River, the refuge today allows limited hunting, wildlife viewing, fishing, environmental education, wildlife interpretation, and photography.

Refuge manager Tom Reed said fishing is excellent on the southwest corner of the refuge where the Bitterroot River borders the property and where Burnt Fork Creek joins the larger water.


Several well-marked trails meander through the refuge. Most of the trails are relatively flat, suitable for all ages of visitors, and some along the river are paved and accessible by wheelchair as well.

Reed said early morning before 10 a.m. and just before sunset are good times to observe migratory and resident birds. This is not a refuge where you will find huge herds of elk or other iconic Montana wildlife, but the refuge is unique for the wide variety of smaller species present.

“The fact that there is a rich diversity of habitats in such close proximity to one another allows visitors to experience an array of native wildlife in a relatively small area.”


Volunteers are the heartbeat of the Lee Metcalf NWR and there are ample opportunities for active seniors to get involved.

“We have over 40 volunteers,” said Reed. “One volunteer runs the entire Junior Duck Stamp Program for K-12 kids in the state of Montana right from here. We also host 8-14 Hunter Education classes throughout the year, and we have volunteers who lead bird walks.  In addition, we have several people who help us with weed treatment and give a hand maintaining equipment and buildings on the refuge.”

Anyone interested in volunteering in this serene setting can call the refuge headquarters at 406-777-5552.

“The lady who works in our visitor center is 93 years old,” shared Reed, “so volunteers of all ages are clearly welcome!”

Anyone traveling near the refuge this summer will be richly rewarded by stopping and spending several hours walking the trails leading from one diverse habitat to another.

“The backdrop of the Bitterroot Mountains is just exquisite here on the refuge,” Reed said. “It will lighten your spirits just be walking on the trails and enjoying the natural beauty of the various habitats.” MSN

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