For a few dollars in gas money you, your family and friends can enter into a protected world found right in the backyard of the Bitteroot valley. Located near Stevensville you will find the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge. Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the refuge offers spectacular scenic views as well as the opportunity to view many indigeonous species in thier native habitats.
Inside the refuge you will have the opportunity to see white tailed deer, pheasant, birds too numerous to list, ducks, geese, otter, blue heron, great horned owls, weasels and many more animals, not to mention an outstanding variety of native fauna. For many visitors this refuge is a photographer’s dream come true. You don’t need to be an expert photographer or really any special equipment because the animals are generally used to seeing humans and vehicles and tend to stay put for a while for viewing.
There is a visitor’s center on site staffed Monday through Friday with courteous and knowlegable staff. They will happily point you in the right direction to search for which ever critter you may happen to be looking for. There are also extensive displays detailing the history of the refuge as well as the animals found there. Find more about the visitor’s center.
Hiking trails are available, also a wheelchair accessable paved trail, all trails meandering though the tall cottonwood riverbottom. Dogs are welcome but please remember to keep them on a leash anytime they are out of your vehicle. Visitors are encouraged to hike the trails made available but hiking across the fields and open areas is against the rules. Many animals live in and make nests on the ground and foot traffic may upset them.
Deer and waterfoul hunting is allowed in the refuge in designated areas. I understand the hunting is very good. The allowed areas are clearly marked and parking spots are provided but as always check the local regulations closely. Fishing is allowed in the refuge if you don’t mind a short walk; to reach the river is a bit of a hike along the provided trails. Where the trails diverge from the road there are restrooms and a map detailing all the trails, how long each is and where each leads to.
The Lee Metcalf is an excellent spot for introspection. I see some people zip though the refuge like they have somewhere to be and I wonder why are they there in the first place? To make the most of the visit, whether you hike or drive, I recommed you. . . stop. Just pick a likely spot and stop. Wait a few minutes. Quietly. Allow yourself to feel what other visitors drive by. Soon you will notice the insects moving in the grass at your feet, you will suddenly hear the sound of the wind rustling the tall grasses and maybe spot a blue heron that only a monent ago was completely camoflagued. That is the beauty of nature. It moves slower than we humans and it’s easy for us to miss much of the beauty and wonder that is often right in front of us, if we should bother to look for it.
For more info from the National Wildlife Refuge Association, look here.
For a map of the refuge roads, trails and boundaries, look here.