By Todd Glaser
As "the largest hydraulic fill dam in the world," one of the more unusual claims to fame, Fort Peck Reservoir and its surroundings are considered a treasure of the Plains. Fishing, recreation and new development continue to showcase Fort Peck as a bright spot in northeastern Montana.
Fort Peck Lake draws a lot of attention from anglers, ranking first in Montana for angling pressure during the summer season and second only to Canyon Ferry near Helena for year-long pressure. Fort Peck has established itself as a premier walleye reservoir, producing quality fishing able to meet anyone's standards. For example, the top three teams during the 2000 Montana Governor's Cup Walleye Tour-nament averaged 49.4 pounds for the two-day event, which has a five-fish-per-day bag limit.
For diversity, the reservoir offers smallmouth bass, lake trout, chinook salmon and northern pike. Everyone has a favorite. Overall, the lake's forage base is in good shape, with cisco and yellow perch being the preferred prey.
Fort Peck Lake provides many camping opportunities. Recreation areas located around or near the lake range from roughing it to near luxury at Kiwanis Park, located just downstream from the powerhouse. A favorite among campers, Kiwanis Park is a well-kept, full-service campground maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers. The asphalt walking/bike path offers a quiet morning stroll with plenty of birds and wildlife to view. Kids also have a well-stocked trout pond to fish. Giant shade trees shadow playground equipment, horseshoe pits, shelter houses and the barbecue pits available to complete a great family outing.
The Pines Recreation Area is on the rolling plains to the northwest of the lake. Twenty-six miles southwest of Highway 24, the approximately 75 cabins nestled in the evergreens offer a refreshing retreat.
A popular summer hot spot, this oasis also draws hunters in fall and winter. The largest elk population in eastern Montana is found close by and hunters watch the mail closely each fall in anticipation of drawing a tag.
Recently, the Fort Peck Lake area, with the help of anglers throughout the state, and many determined local residents, is seeing the dream of a warm-water fish hatchery become a reality. If federal funding comes through as promised, engineering will begin late in 2002 with construction in 2003. The new hatchery could be completed as early as 2005.
The Fort Peck Interpretive Center is another dream becoming reality. Construction will begin in September on the visitor/learning/interpretive center and museum for northeast Montana. With more than 200,000 visitors to Fort Peck last year, a year-over-year increase of 21 percent, the center is destined to become a welcome and interesting attraction for many. The facility will house the "Peck's Rex," a large tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur found in McCone County. A total of $6 million has been appropriated for the facility and four federal agencies have committed to providing information and displays.
Fort Peck may seem to be an intimidating drive from some parts of the state, but it is a rewarding getaway. A little wind, dramatic weather and solitude.
It is Montana's very own treasure and, yes, it is in eastern Montana.