BONNERS FERRY — The ever popular 4 1/2-mile auto tour road through the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge will be closed for about a month this summer. This includes closure to all traffic, automobiles, bicycles and hikers.
They are shutting it down to replace the Myrtle Creek water pump, which is a very old system. The process will entail tearing down into the tour road to access all the workings of the pump system, including conduit and piping.
“We are closing the tour road to all visitors for safety reasons,” said Talina Richards, Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge administrative support assistant.
The tentative date for closure is Monday, although Richards said that the days of actual closure are not yet confirmed.
“The contractors that are doing the project are starting, and will be on site July 15, so they are going to start looking at what they are going to be doing,” Richards said. “They may keep it open for a couple days and then close it as they see fit. So after July 15, it will just be a day-to-day decision.”
The Myrtle Creek pump system is in place to regulate and manage the water levels in the refuge wetlands.
“It allows us to be able to manipulate the habitat like mother nature would be doing,” said Richards.
With the pump, they are able to both drain water out of the wetlands into Myrtle Creek, or draw water from the creek and pump into the refuge to raise the water level in the wetlands.
“We have water rights to Myrtle Creek, so if we need to fill wetlands for waterfowl season — when waterfowl hunters start wanting more water for waterfowl — we can pump water from Myrtle Creek to try to fill that,” said Richards. “Or, in the spring, if we need to pull water off of the refuge for whatever purpose, we can drain it out into Myrtle Creek.”
The Myrtle Creek pump system plays an important part in habitat management. If maintenance is needed in a certain area, they can lower the water levels to better access the area.
“If cattails are starting to encroach too much on certain areas, in order to cut them back, we need to drain water off in that area to get in there and manage it,” Richards said. “Or to better manipulate water levels for other wetland plants for vegetation for food.”
Although the auto tour road will be closed, there is plenty to do and see in the refuge.
“All the trails will still be open,” Richards said. “The headquarters facility will still be open, so you are still welcome to come out and walk any of those trails.”
Richards said that many of the people visiting the refuge are looking to see moose.
“You still have the opportunity to see the moose,” Richards said. “Of course, the tour road is the best opportunity to potentially see them, but the south end of the refuge, I’ve seen them often.”
Richards suggests that people drive along Lion’s Den Road, a county road, or hike Deep Creek Trail, for the potential to view moose or other wildlife. Westside Road is also an option to spot wildlife, as it parallels the first leg of the auto tour road, with Myrtle Creek between them.
Wildlife photographer, Steve Jamsa, also suggests people take the opportunity to explore other locations in Boundary County, such as Snow Creek Falls.
“Other options for the tour route being closed would be to go down to McArthur Lake, or go up to Boundary Creek. That whole thing is open,” Jamsa said. “You can kayak, or hike, or bike anywhere up there.”
Once the Myrtle Creek pump system is replaced, the auto tour road will be open for business and the wildlife refuge will be better able to manage the wetlands. Richards said she is excited about the project.
“It has been much needed,” she said. “It has been on our maintenance log for several years now, so finally we have gotten the funding to go ahead with it.”
For more information about the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge: www.fws.gov/refuge/kootenai