Stump Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Theodore Roosevelt designated two federal bird sanctuaries in North Dakota. These sanctuaries would later become national wildlife refuges. Stump Lake, created by executive order in 1905, was Roosevelt’s third such refuge. Chase Lake, created in 1908, was his twentieth.

Stump Lake is part of the Devils Lake basin – a closed basin that fluctuates dramatically over time depending on rainfall and groundwater levels. During periods of low water in the basin, Devils Lake takes on the saline composition and brackish odor of other closed basin lakes such as Pyramid Lake in Nevada and the Dead Sea in the Middle East. (That’s how Devils Lake got its name.) Stump Lake is part of the system. In periods of low to moderate water it is separate from Devils Lake. In high water periods (one of which the system is experiencing in the early twenty-first century), Stump Lake is absorbed by Devils Lake.

Stump Lake causeway 

This causeway is all that separates Devils Lake (on the left) from Stump Lake (on the right).

Stump Lake NWR originally consisted of four small islands. The Roosevelt administration established the refuge because Stump Lake was a significant staging area for canvasback ducks and tundra swans thanks to the uniquely large beds of sago pondweed along the lake. The 27-acre refuge is located in Nelson County, North Dakota. It is administered as part of the Devils Lake Wetland Management District Complex, so its headquarters are located in Devils Lake.

Because of the high water in the Devils Lake basin, Stump Lake NWR is currently closed to the public. It is still possible to visit the lake, where an abundance of wildlife can be seen in some of the most beautiful prairie country in North Dakota.

Roosevelt invented the National Wildlife Refuge System with the establishment of Pelican Island Federal Bird Sanctuary by executive order in 1903. Altogether he named 51 wildlife refuges nationwide. He never visited Stump Lake in North Dakota, or Chase Lake.

What You Will See

Stump Lake Pavilion

At the moment you will mostly see water, stretching far west towards Devils Lake proper. Stump Lake Park, a private resort and recreation area located on the eastern shore of the lake, has a lovely retro feel about it, as if you had been transformed back into the 1970s or even 1950s. The park includes a large dance pavilion, an unusual miniature golf course, playground equipment, camping facilities, a roller skating rink, and more. Of all the TR footprint sites in North Dakota, Stump Lake is the least distinctive, at least at this point in its hydrological cycle.

Stump Lake minigolf 

How To Get There

The best way to reach Stump Lake is on ND state highway 1, either from US 2 from the north or ND 200 from the south. The nearest communities are Devils Lake and Pekin. Stump Lake Park is located a mile or so west of ND 1.

Further Reading

Douglas Brinkley. Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America.

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