McAlister Lake rests in a bowl-shaped depression on the edge of the Great Plains, 100 acres of deceptively still waters.
Part of the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge, the lake is respite and home to birds as well as fish stocked by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. Last year, the lake grew silent, grew dry, when a mixup at the state offices resulted in the forgotten scheduled delivery of water from Storrie Lake. Today, the waters rise high, thanks to winter's snowfall.
The Friends of the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge along with the N.M. Department of Game and Fish are asking residents to help clean up the shoreline at McAlister Lake as well as the Refuge Loop Road this Saturday, April 19, at 9 a.m. in order to help protect and preserve this important wildlife habitat. Volunteers will meet at the refuge gate or at McAlister Lake, and are asked to bring a rake and gloves if they have them. Job assignments will be handed out as volunteers arrive.
The frequent use of McAlister Lake as a fishing and bird watching site has left the shoreline dotted with beer bottles, cigarette butts, styrofoam cups, and fast food containers. These items are not only unsightly, but can be unsafe to the wildlife nesting near the lake's waters. Volunteers will help collect the wind-blown refuse and bag it for safe discard, raking the shoreline clean as they go.
The lake habitat attracts about 270 species of birds, including 80 nesting species, five owl species, and 14 types of raptors. The most numerous birds are waterfowl, shorebirds, and cranes, many of which peak in numbers during the current spring migration. Volunteers will have the opportunity to see plenty of wildlife, perhaps the Prairie Falcon and Golden Eagle nest in the canyons near the lake and are seen year-round.
The lake is surrounded by prairie grasses such as big and little bluestem, blue and sideoats grama, buffalo grass, needle-and-thread grass, western wheatgrass, Junegrass, and Indian grass. Wildflowers mix in throughout the prairie, many beginning to bloom under April's warming sun. Some birds, such as Long-billed Curlew, prefer to nest in areas with shorter grass, such as the blue grama and buffalo grass closest to McAlister Lake. The shoreline also encompasses several species of sedges and rushes that provide plenty of seed for local and visiting birds.
The refuge itself spreads across 8,700 San Miguel County acres and sits on a plateau bordered on three sides by forested canyons. Pion, ponderosa pines, and junipers dominate the canyon slopes and Rocky Mountain foothills. Ash, cottonwood, and willows grow at stream level in the canyons. If you haven't visited the refuge before, a wildlife drive, open all year, is a great way to experience the land and see wildlife. The eight-mile-loop snakes past prairies, ponds, several small lakes including McAlister Lake, and spring's wet meadows. The drive starts at the refuge entrance, passes the visitor center, and offers stops at Crane Lake overlook, the woods and prairie near McAlister Lake, and the permit-only Gallinas Nature hiking trail.
McAlister Clean-Up, Saturday, April 19, 9 a.m. Meet at the Refuge Loop Road or at the shoreline of the lake. Bring a rake and gloves, if you have them. For more information, call Jan Arrott at 454-6115.