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Doug Leier, Published April 27 2011

Leier: Local access to the outdoors is a concern

The issue of access for hunting and fishing continues to percolate in my ever-scientific conversations at coffee shops and cafes. No matter where I go, big city or small town, people are concerned about access as it relates to North Dakota’s outdoors.

First and foremost, healthy fish and wildlife populations need habitat, and it helps to have suitable weather conditions. Even with great habitat and abundant wildlife, however, hunters still need a place to flush pheasants and anglers need a place to wet a line, either from shore, from a boat, or both.

Without a place to fish from shore, or a ramp to launch a boat on Lake Oahe, Devils Lake or the Missouri River, the health of the walleye or perch population doesn’t matter. Which is why access in terms of fishing and boating at times overshadows fish population health.

Statewide, North Dakota has more than 350 public boat ramps. Understand, however, that even in stable environments boat ramps need periodic work. When you add in rising and falling waters, it can make for a major summer work effort.

In the past decade, lakes Sakakawea and Oahe have had their share of ramp work because of falling water levels. Now that these Missouri River reservoirs are basically full, all regular access points are open.

At Devils Lake, however, the water is continuing to rise, and along with land and structures, it is also consuming boat ramps. While fish are flourishing, Game and Fish and other local partners have a heavy workload this summer to maintain boating access.

To access Minnewauken Flats, a new boat ramp is planned for Round Lake on the southwestern side of the lake. This area is one of the highest priorities, but not a guarantee.

At Pelican Lake, north of state highway 19 across from Devils Lake, rising water has actually helped a proposed access site, as the projected rise in lake levels should provide enough slope for a new ramp that will allow boaters to launch.

Meanwhile, the main access road to Grahams Island State Park sits at 1,455 feet, the same elevation as the lake’s projected rise. It’s not hard to figure out the problem there. Without an access road leading into the park, the ramp in the park won’t be of much use.

At Lakewood the ramp is at 1,453.8 feet, but plans are to extend it to 1,458.

On East Bay the ramp and parking area along Highway 20 will be extended 3 feet from its current elevation to 1,458.

Some of this work will take time, but Devils Lake is such an important and popular fishery that maintaining access to is a top priority of not only the Game and Fish Department, but many other agencies and local organizations as well.


Leier is a biologist with the Game & Fish Department. He can be reached by email:dleier@nd.gov