Established by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in 1989, Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge today encompasses a total of 3,170 acres in northwest Becker County.
It is managed through the Detroit Lakes Wetland Management District.
Stretching from Honstad Lake just northeast of Audubon up to Bisson Lake northwest of Callaway, Hamden Slough NWR has long been a popular spot for birders.
The prairie chicken blind at the Refuge is "full most days from April through May," says Scott Kahan, manager of Hamden Slough.
"It's one of the awesome spectacles of nature to see the prairie chickens come alive in the spring," he adds.
From the blind, spectators can witness the prairie chickens gathering for their annual mating ritual, which involves the male chickens doing a very unique courtship dance.
Hamden Slough is also a regular field trip stop during Detroit Lakes' annual Festival of Birds, Kahan noted.
The Refuge hosts several school group tours each year, and Kahan's office is in the process of working with the Perham school district to construct a small environmental education classroom, which will be open to children and adults alike.
"We do a youth hunt in mid-September," Kahan continued.
The annual event is a mentored hunt in which kids are paired with an experienced hunter for a day of hunting at the Refuge. There is also a waterfowl education class held in conjunction with the youth hunt, which is in its second year at the Refuge.
The Refuge is open to hunters using muzzleloaders during their deer hunting season as well, Kahan said.
"It's an actively managed refuge," he added, noting that water control structures have been installed on the land to enable U.S. Fish & Wildlife to manage water levels.
Water management is practiced to aid shore birds and other waterfowl during their migrating and breeding seasons, Kahan added.
"There is some limited farming taking place at the Refuge -- corn, beans, small grains -- to offset the wildlife depredations on neighboring lands," he said. "Some of the land is also hayed by local cooperatives for feeding cattle."
The haying is done in part to make the land more habitable for prairie chickens and other species that thrive in shorter grass, Kahan explained.
Though the NWR already encompasses well over 3,000 acres, its approved acquisition boundary is roughly double that, at 6,000 acres.
Acquisition of Refuge lands is done entirely on a volunteer basis, however.
"About half of that (6,000 acres) is still private land," Kahan says. "We buy only from willing sellers."
Though there is much activity already at Hamden Slough, U.S. Fish & Wildlife is in the early stages of developing a 15-year, comprehensive long-term management plan for the NWR.
An open house was held last Thursday at the Detroit Lakes Public Library to offer area residents an opportunity to provide input on what they feel the priorities should be for development of the site.
But as Kahan pointed out, the open house was just the beginning of the planning process, not the end.
"There is a great opportunity for the public to engage in developing this long-term management plan for the Refuge," Kahan said. "We encourage any people who have an interest (in the site's development) to provide their input."
Some of the questions that may be answered through the planning process include how much, if any, Refuge land should be opened to hunting, and during what seasons; whether or not Refuge land should be opened to farming; and how many wetlands should be restored to their natural state.
"What I'm hoping for is a variety of different ideas," Kahan said.
"I'm looking forward to hearing about some things we haven't considered, new ideas."
Comments can be submitted by mail to the Detroit Lakes WMD, 26624 North Tower Rd., Detroit Lakes MN 56501-7959.
Comments may also be submitted via e-mail to email@example.com (please note "Hamden Slough NWR/CCP Comment" in the subject line).
If you prefer, Hamden Slough also has a website where planning comments can be submitted: www.fws.gov/midwest/planning/hamdenslough.
Comments may be submitted anytime between now and Nov. 1. The comments will be incorporated into a draft plan, after which more opportunities for public comment will be offered.
For more information about Hamden Slough NWR, please contact the Detroit Lakes Wetland Management District office at 218-847-4431.