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150,000 visitors per year use the Wildlilfe Viewing Trail and the adjacent Auto Tour Route on the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge.
Click on map or link to see detailed map of the area
A red-naped sapsucker inspecting the National Recreation Trail sign
photo by Kimi Smith
The Wildlife Viewing Area (WVA) of the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge began as an access trail to the Bitterroot River for local farmers. With the establishment of the refuge in 1963, the WVA took on its present function and identity.
Consisting of 160 acres of ponds, sloughs, and river bottom woodland, it has two nature trails (.9 mi. and .7 mi.), and a half-mile, paved, wheelchair-accessible trail from the parking lot to the picnic area. Equipped with a wildlife "gazebo" viewing/fishing structure, outdoor restroom facilities, benches, and information kiosk, the WVA and Refuge attract over 150,000 visitors a year.
During the spring, the WVA hosts activities of the local STOKED Program (Students Teaching Other Kids Ecological Dynamics). This hands-on, experiential method of teaching and learning has Stevensville High School students conducting field trips for groups of elementary students (grades 2-5).
Together, through direct observation, posters and pictures, furs and skulls, they absorb the lessons of the natural world of the Bitterroot Valley. Lessons center on aquatic invertebrates and mammals, trees, fish migration, and animal forms, function, and movement
Kids learning about the local environment
Although it is one of the nation’s smaller refuges, encompassing 2,800 acres, it is one of the few remaining undeveloped areas in the Bitterroot Valley. The refuge lies along the meandering Bitterroot River and is comprised of wet meadow and gallery and riverfront forest habitats and has created and modified wetlands.
Common breeding wildlife species there include wood duck, hooded merganser, pileated woodpecker, eastern kingbird, yellow warbler, porcupine, yellow-pine chipmunk, and red squirrels.
Maintenance of the trail areas is performed by Refuge staff and dedicated volunteers from the local communities of Stevensville, Florence, Hamilton, and Missoula.
Over 140,000 visitors come to this refuge annually to view and photograph wildlife, archery deer hunt, walk the refuge trails, or participate in interpretive programs in the indoor and outdoor classrooms.
From Missoula, take US 93 south about 30 miles to Stevensville. At the Stevensville cutoff road (269), turn east. Travel one mile to Eastside Highway (203) and again turn east. Travel a quarter-mile to Wildfowl Lane and turn north. The Refuge boundary is 2 miles from this intersection. Travel another 2 miles on this road to visit Refuge Offices and Visitor Center.
For more information:
Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge
4567 Wildfowl Lane Stevensville, MT 59870
Phone: (406) 777-5552
Wildlife photos by Kimi Smith, Trail Volunteer at Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. See more photos of her Lee Metcalf NWR photos in the 2012 National Recreation Trails Photo Contest