CONBOY LAKE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
CONBOY LAKE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
100 Wildlife Refuge Road
Glenwood, Washington 98619
Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge, one of the hidden jewels of the Refuge System, is located on the east slope of the Cascade Mountains at the base of 12,307-ft. Mount Adams in southern Washington.
It currently encompasses 6,532 acres of the historic Conboy/Camas lakebeds, a shallow marshy wetland area drained by early settlers. Conifer forests, grasslands, shallow wetlands, and deep water provide homes for deer, elk, beaver, coyote, otter, small rodents, and 150 species of birds, as well as numerous amphibians, reptiles, and fish.
Bald eagle, greater sandhill crane, and the Oregon spotted frog are species of concern. Refuge visitors enjoy the scenery, hike the Willard Springs trail, and observe wildlife from the county roads that surround and cross the refuge.
Conboy Lake Refuge protects and manages habitats that are home to so much life that it is difficult even to identify it all. There are 7 amphibian, 10 reptile, 40 mammal, and 165 bird species on the refuge. This does not include a myriad of invertebrates and many plants, fungi, lichens, etc.
Rainbow trout live in the streams. Tundra swans, pintail, and mallard feed and rest in the lake. Frogs, salamanders, and toads grow in the adjacent calm pools. A rich variety of meadow plants host colorful dragonflies and butterflies. The prairie grasses feed both elk and cranes. Jays, grouse, and squirrels find homes in the forest. Other residents include marsh wren, racer, deer mouse, American kestrel, snowshoe hare, and coyote.
Greater sandhill cranes need isolated, open, wet meadows or shallow marshes on the edges of rivers or lakes. Open meadows allow them to see predators from a distance, but there is some indication they select nest sites near interspersed groves--perhaps for wind and storm protection. Each family, parents and young called "colts," may actively protect as much as 250 acres.
For centuries the Conboy Lake region has provided homes for cranes, but early settlers found it ideal for farming and cattle. To increase hay production, they partially drained Conboy Lake. Loss of habitat to such activities, along with hunting, took its toll on wildlife. By the end of the 19th century, journal entries indicate a scarcity of game--ducks, geese, and swans--in this area. Easily disturbed, cranes did not tolerate the increasing human population. Eventually, nesting pairs could not find suitable habitat. In 1964, Conboy Lake Refuge was established to preserve and restore this key habitat. Ironically, the refuge was not created for cranes. Yet, in 1979 one pair returned. Today there are about 14 pairs.
In 1992, biologists found the Oregon spotted frog here, in healthy numbers, making Conboy Lake one of only four such populations in Washington. Spotted frogs occur in only 10-22% of their historic range in Washington, prompting a listing of this amphibian as a State endangered species.
Drawn by accounts of the valley's abundant resources, settlers like Peter Conboy, for whom the lake is named, began arriving in the area during the 1870s. The Whitcomb-Cole hewn log house near refuge headquarters remains as an example of the homes they built, and is one of only a few pioneer log homes still standing in Klickitat County.
Drawn by accounts of the valley's abundant resources, settlers like Peter Conboy, for whom the lake is named, began arriving in the area during the 1870s. The Whitcomb-Cole hewn log house near refuge headquarters remains as an example of the homes they built, and is one of only a few pioneer log homes still standing in Klickitat County. It originally stood two miles across the lake on land first settled by Stephen Whitcomb. In 1891, John Cole acquired the land from Whitcomb and built the main structure of the house which included a large downstairs room that served as a kitchen, dining, sitting, and family room. These were pretty cozy quarters for a family of seven!
The Coles sold the property in 1911 and and the house remained inhabited for another 40 years until abandoned in the late 1950s. As a result of its abandonment, the home fell into disrepair until 1987 when the entire structure was moved to its current location and restored.
Today, the house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is open for visitors to wander in and imagine life in a common prairie home of over a century ago.
Important to Native Peoples:
The Klickitat people know this prairie as "tahk" and found it a reliable source for game and vegetable foods-often with a surplus for storage. Here they gathered, as did the Yakama, to collect camas plant roots in the spring. While the women dug and dried the camas roots, the men would hunt and fish.
The use of Conboy Lake by Native Americans has a long history. Archaeological evidence shows encampments on the lake shore dating between 7,000 and 11,000 years ago-possibly while ice age glaciers from Mt. Adams still reached into the valley.
In the 1850s Francis A. Chenowith, first Speaker of the Washington Territorial legislature, wrote letters to The Oregonian newspaper describing his travels in the region. One such trip took him to Camas Prairie, where he met Chief Kamiakin of the Yakama Tribe.
Chief Kamiakin was one of the principle signers of the Treaty of 1855, which established the Yakama Reservation. When the treaty was violated by gold prospectors, he led the Yakama, Palouse, and Klickitat against the US Army. He was forced into exile in Canada but eventually returned renouncing his leadership role. He died in 1877 in Palouse country.