State Parks lead Lake Sakakawea development

Kim Fundingsland/MDN The annual Governor’s Cup Walleye Derby headquarters out of Fort Stevenson State Park each July. Fishing is a major attraction for visitors to all State Parks located on Lake Sakakawea.

GARRISON – A succession of impressive improvements at North Dakota State Parks has greatly aided development along Lake Sakakawea.

Although there are several developments on the sprawling reservoir, among them cabins and homes at Wolf Creek, Garrison Bay, Van Hook and Douglas Bay, it is the lead provided by State Parks that puts an exclamation point on continuing improvements for those who often make Lake Sakakawea a get-away destination. Fort Stevenson State Park, Lake Sakakawea State Park, Indian Hills and Lewis and Clark State Park have all undergone dramatic changes over the past several years.

The parks all share a bit of history in that the famed Corps of Discovery, the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-05, moved through the region via the Missouri River which now lies beneath Lake Sakakawea. Construction on Garrison Dam, which backs up the Missouri, was completed in 1953. Garrison Reservoir, sometimes called Garrison Lake but now Lake Sakakawea, was formed.

The massive reservoir, the third largest in the United States, provided flood protection and hydro-electric power to a growing region of the U.S. It wasn’t long before people began to see other opportunities provided by the reservoir. Boating and fishing and a variety of recreational activities have continued to grow since those early days.

Campgrounds sprung up along the lake where permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A few entrepreneurs made attempts at drawing people to early day Lake Sakakawea. One such venture was Lee’s Resort, an establishment located on what is now a portion of Fort Stevenson State Park. The main building at Lee’s Resort was located near where the Fort Stevenson prairie dog town is today.

“That was in the 1960s, I believe,” said Chad Trautman, Fort Stevenson State Park manager. “Fort Stevenson started in the early ’70s.”

The park, located approximately three miles south of Garrison, was initially a somewhat primitive operation under the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It was known as Garrison Campground until purchased by North Dakota State Parks.

“Campers were much smaller in those days than what we’re seeing now,” said Trautman. “Now we’ve upgraded to sewer sites and from 20 amp electrical service to 50 amps. To me camping has more toys and larger equipment.”

While doing improvements to the park, such as tree planting and bathhouse building, the park has expanded the number of camper sites by adding a fourth campground loop with complete services. This year campers at Fort Stevenson State Park will be able to take advantage of another impressive improvement.

“We’ve got a brand new bathroom facility ready to go for this season,” said Trautman. “It is a nice comfort station with two family bathrooms, similar to what you would see in a larger department store. It’s almost like the bathroom in your house.”

The new comfort station is equipped with eight shower heads, four more than the old facility, and is state-of-the-art construction for a modern campground.

“I would say it is amazing. It’s gorgeous,” said Trautman while acknowledging his unique description of a public bathroom.

What many consider the centerpiece of the park is the Garrison Bay Marina. However, the park also has the deTrobriand Bay Marina. The dual facilities help make Fort Stevenson State Park a preferred destination on Lake Sakakawea. When the deTrobriand Marina on the east side of the park went dry during a series of low water years the Garrison Bay Marina was constructed on the west side where deeper access was assured. When the water came back up, as it is today, the deTrobriand Marina returned to service.

“We’ve gone from an older marina to a new marina with deeper water mooring and improved usability of our docks and slips. We also upgraded our concession facilities to a nice new one,” said Trautman.

Both marinas boast wide boat ramps with ample parking for tow vehicles and trailers. The access points also provide protection from prevailing winds on Lake Sakakawea.

On the south shore of Lake Sakakawea near Pick City, to the southwest of Fort Stevenson State Park, is the first of the state parks to open on Lake Sakakawea – fittingly, Lake Sakakawea State Park. It was originally named Garrison Lake State Park when owned by the Corps of Engineers. State Parks took over operation of the park in 1965 and gave it its new name.

Lake Sakakawea State Park has a large camping area for pull-type campers and tents. It also has a large comfort station, two boats ramps and an impressive marina. Nearby Pick City offers additional amenities for park visitors.

Further to the west are Indian Hills State Park and Lewis and Clark State Park. Indian Hills, south of White Shield, is situated among some of the most scenic sections of Lake Sakakawea. It has a boat ramp, store and ample camping facilities. Fishing is one of the major draws for Indian Hills State Park with limits of hefty walleyes and northern pike quite common throughout the open water season.

Lewis and Clark State Park, located 19 miles southeast of Williston on Highway 1804, is named after the famed explorers who camped near there in 1805. The park has expanded greatly in recent years, particularly to accommodate an increasing population in northwest North Dakota.

A concession store and marina are important aspects of the park. The 40 slip marina offers protection from the elements and easy access to Lake Sakakawea for sight-seeing, recreation or fishing.