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Cars will be unable to reach parts of refuge

SIBLEY — Certain parts of the St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge will soon be inaccessible by car.

Refuge manager Bob Strader said the Mississippi River’s level will rise to at least 30 feet through mid-March, and the river level has actually been more than 40 feet the past two years at this time.

“We’re starting to close roads, because much of the refuge will be flooded over the next two weeks,” Strader said.

“The parts of the refuge that are up in the hill — the refuge office and Magnolia Trail — will still be open, but access to most fishing areas by car will be closed.”

Strader said fishing areas can still be accessed by boat, however.

“When the water gets high, though, the fish get spread out, so the fishing isn’t too good generally,” he said.

Strader said the rise in river levels are normal for this time of the year, and they’re good for the production of fisheries in the Mississippi floodplain.

“It’s part of the natural cycle of the river,” Strader said. “The whole refuge basically becomes a fish nursery, so the whole floodplain is doing what it’s supposed to.”

Water control structures on the refuge will also be worked to catch water when the river starts going back down, so the refuge won’t need to pump during dryer months.

“We’ll be draining units that we want to use to grow agricultural crops,” Strader said. “We’ll also slowly start pulling down water in other units to create habitat for shorebirds and wading birds.

“In other areas, we’ll hold the water in and delay the darawdown until late summer for some of those shorebirds and wading birds. That way we won’t have to pump it — it’s basically free water.”

The refuge may also be getting some national attention in the next few months for its key role in housing alligator gar, Strader said.

“National Geographic may be coming down to do a story on them,” he said. “The date I heard is probably late April, but it would depend on river levels.”

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