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National Wildlife Refuges Provide Free Natural Adventures for Families. From Montana to Florida and Delaware to South Dakota spring is a time to observe natural living history and the amazing conversion of the seasons with free events and celebrations ideal for families. 
National Wildlife  Family River Adventures along the Lewis and Clerk Trail

Here's the scoop.
Hike the paths of history; make footprints and create memories. Go wild with your kids and have fun doing it. Traveling a historical trail within a national wildlife refuge may be as close as you can get to actually stepping back in time. Not only can you walk in the footsteps of Native Americans and pioneers but you also see much the same countryside and abundant wildlife.

The 97-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System with 547 national wildlife refuges is well known for its wildlife and wildlife trails. What is less known is that it is also full of national historical trails. Ten national historical trails cross 63 wildlife refuges. It is not surprising the two coincide since indigenous peoples tended to gather in the same places that wildlife did - and most trails followed tracks already established by Native Americans.

The result today is a multi-level experience. National wildlife refuge families have the chance to experience the wonder of standing on ground occupied by indigenous peoples thousands of years ago and, more recently, by explorers and settlers or be awed by remarkable native habitats with indigenous birds and wildlife.

We have obtained a short list of spots where history and nature may be enjoyed at the same time.

Stop along the Lewis and Clark Trail. Twenty-two national wildlife refuges are located on or near routes that Lewis and Clark took. Near the beginning of the trail is the Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Missouri. Big Muddy is a string of islands and shore areas along the Missouri River that are allowing the river to be a river again by re-establishing a cycle of flooding and allowing flood plain vegetation to re-establish itself.

Big Muddy's Jameson Island has a mile-long Lewis and Clark trail that follows an old levee to the Missouri river, providing lots of opportunities for wildlife viewing, especially on a sandbar near the opposite bank. Interpretive signs along the way help the hiker imagine the changes that have taken place in the area since the expedition 200 years ago. The entrance to Jameson Island is behind the Lyceum Museum in historic Arrow Rock, Missouri.

Close to the end of their route Lewis and Clark camped on what is now the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge near the mouth of the Columbia River in Washington State. They also spent several hours at the village of Cathlapotle, inhabited by Chinookan peoples who lived in oversized plankhouses. A Cathlapotle plankhouse has been recreated and is open to the public on Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons during the summer and available to groups by special arrangement. There are several hiking trails and an auto route on the refuge which is open during daylight hours seven days a week. (Information may be obtained at refuge headquarters at 28908 NW Main Avenue in Ridgefield (360) 887-4106 or
National Wildlife Refuge Cathapolte on the Oregon Trail
Follow a trail to the West. Ride the Oregon Trail; look for traces of the Pony Express; follow one of the Mormon trails. Seven hundred years ago the nomadic Shoshone Indians opened up the first known trails on the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Wyoming's Green River Basin. They were followed by fur traders, settlers following the Oregon Trail, Pony Express Riders, Mormon emigrants and homesteaders. All of these travelers crisscrossed the refuge, an oasis of green that divides the desert sagebrush plains. Several Green River ferry crossings are located at Seedskadee Refuge. The Lombard Ferry, used both by settlers on the Oregon Trail and by Mormons, is on the National Registry of Historic Places. The Lombard Ferry Historical site has a fully accessible trail with interpretive signs. In addition, old Oregon Trail wagon ruts are still visible in places on the refuge and traces of old homesteads can be seen.

Refuge Wildlife Biologist Lamont Glass says re-enactors, especially those on the Pony Express Trail, come through regularly. He suggests stopping off at refuge headquarters for the refuge's historical brochure and information about Seedskadee auto routes, which provide access to much of the refuge. The entire refuge (37 miles north of Green River, Wyo., on Highway 372) is also open for walking. A visitor center with interpretative historical displays is under construction ((307) 875-2187 or

In southern Idaho groups of settlers broke off the Oregon Trail and took an alternate route through the Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge, 25 miles on either side of the Snake River. Refuge Manager Steve Bouffard says there would have been competition for grass and water which might be why some of the westward-bound pioneers split off. The countryside is sagebrush interspersed with lava rock. Bouffard says the settlers would have come through in summer, when the heat and the dust made for an unimaginable journey.National Wildlife Refuge in Butterfly in Idaho.

Although much of the alternate trail was submerged in 1906 by the nearby Minidoka Dam, a small marked segment comes out of the reservoir near the refuge headquarters on Route 24 northeast of Rupert, Idaho. There is a longer section of trail on the north side of the refuge. But it is a rugged 20 mile, three-hour drive to get there, requiring a high clearance vehicle - like say, a covered wagon. ((208) 436-3589 or

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 547 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas.For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at  

Content and images provided by NWR. Copyright 2015.

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