Moonshine Lake

Basic Info
Map Sheets83M/14
Lat / Long55.8833333, -119.2166667
55°52'N, 119°13'W
Area0.28 km2
Max depth3.5 m
Mean depth1.3 m
Dr. Basin Area6.84 km2
Dam, WeirDam
Drainage BasinPeace River Basin
Camp GroundPresent
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishRainbow Trout, Northern Pike
Trophic StatusEutrophic
TP x100 µg/L
CHLORO x9.8 µg/L
TDS x470 mg/L
Photo credit: Alberta Recreation and Parks


Moonshine Lake is a very small recreational lake located in improvement District No. 20 about 110 km north of the city of Grande Prairie and 40 km northwest of the town of Spirit River. To reach the lake from Spirit River, take Highway 49 west to Secondary Road 725, then drive north for about 4.5 km to the entrance road to Moonshine Lake Provincial Park (FIGURE 1).

The lake's name has a colourful history. Moonshine Lake was situated on a detour from a trail that was known in the 1910s and 1920s as the Moonshine Trail. Sometime during the 1920s, two local residents spilled their illegal brew from a wagon into the lake, and thus christened the lake "Moonshine". At some point after this time, the lake was officially renamed "Mirage", but local residents continued to use the original name. In 1983, the name was changed back to Moonshine Lake (Alta. Cult. Multicult. n.d.).

Cree and Métis lived in the general area before the arrival of the first white settlers in 1891. Cattle grazed near the lake in the early 1900s, but most settlement occurred after the railroad was built as far as Spirit River in 1916 (Finlay and Finlay 1987). Two sawmills were located near the lake, the first in 1928 and the second in 1945, and much of what is now the provincial park was logged. Prior to 1959, the lake was a 0.14 km2 slough surrounded by lush grass and trees and local families visited for picnics. The idea for a park was initiated in 1956, and Moonshine Lake Provincial Park was established in 1959 (Big Bend Hist. Commit. 1981). That year, a weir and dyke were built along the east side of the lake, the water level rose and the lake's area was doubled.

Moonshine Lake Provincial Park covers an area of about 8.5 km2 and surrounds the entire lake (FIGURE 1, 2). It is open year-round and offers 110 campsites, a separate group camping area, sewage disposal facilities, tap water, a concession stand, a hand boat launch, a boat launch for trailers, day-use areas, a change house, a baseball diamond and three playground areas. All boat motors except electric motors are prohibited from the lake. As well, all boats are prohibited from designated swimming areas (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988).

Moonshine Lake supports a very popular year-round rainbow trout fishery. Sport fishing regulations prohibit fishing for bait fish or the use of bait fish in the lake (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989). Winterkill was a problem until aeration equipment was installed in 1983. The lake is quite fertile, and the water turns green by midsummer. Algal concentrations during summer seem to have declined since aeration began, but aquatic vegetation is more abundant. Aquatic plants were cleared mechanically from areas around the beach, boat launch and dam during the mid-1980s.

Drainage Basin Characteristics

Although the drainage basin surrounding the lake is very small, it is 24 times the size of the lake (Tables 1, 2). The natural drainage has been altered by the construction of ditches and an earthfill weir that regulates the lake level (FIGURE 1). Moonshine Lake had no defined inlet prior to 1975, when a 2.4-km-long drainage ditch was dug west of the lake. The ditch catches runoff, but water flows only during snowmelt and periods of heavy rainfall (Whitelock 1988). An overflow spillway on the southwest side of the lake flows south intermittently into two sloughs, then east until it joins the main outflow from the dam where the outflow crosses Secondary Road 725.

Moonshine Lake's watershed is part of the Boreal Foothills Ecoregion (Strong and Leggat 1981). Most of the soils are moderately well-drained Dark Gray Luvisols and imperfectly drained Gleyed Dark Gray Luvisols. Both soil types have developed on fine-textured glaciolacustrine sediments. They support a forest cover that consists mainly of trembling aspen, white spruce and balsam poplar, with lesser amounts of willow and white birch, and an understory of low-bush cranberry, rose, buffalo-berry and fireweed. Two types of poorly drained soils are present in a large area northwest of the lake.

Orthic Gleysols, which developed on fine-textured glaciolacustrine sediments, are located in depressions where runoff frequently collects and water infiltration is slow. The vegetation on these soils is mainly alder, willow, white birch and balsam poplar, with some white spruce and an understory of feathermoss. The other poorly drained soils are undifferentiated Mesisols that developed on sedge and reed peat. Mesisols are located mostly in bogs and fens; they support a cover of black spruce, Labrador tea, Sphagnum and feathermoss (MacMillan and Greenlee 1977).

The drainage basin is extensively forested and there is very little agricultural activity and no residential development. Land near the north and south shores of the lake has been developed by Alberta Recreation and Parks for recreational activities such as camping and day use.

Lake Basin Characteristics

The bathymetry of Moonshine Lake has not been surveyed. In 1975, the lake covered an area of 0.28 km2 and in 1986 it had a maximum depth of 3.5 m (TABLE 2). The water level has been monitored since 1978 (FIGURE 3). The historic minimum, recorded in August 1980, was 717.70 m, and the historic maximum, recorded in July 1988, was 718.57 m, which is a fluctuation of 0.87 m.

In 1959, a 625-m-long earthfill dam was constructed across the east side of the lake, and an overflow spillway was constructed on the southwest side (Alta. Envir. n.d.[d]). The project was a cooperative effort between the Department of Agriculture (Water Resources Division) and the Department of Lands and Forests, and its purpose was to provide water storage for recreation. The dam is licenced to, and operated by, Alberta Recreation and Parks. A conduit and gatewell are located in the centre of the dam; they allow water to be released from the lake, but releases are made very infrequently. Park staff have allowed beaver dams to remain on the overflow spillway to keep the water level higher in order to enhance the probability that fish will overwinter successfully (Whitelock 1988).

Water Quality

The water quality of Moonshine Lake has been sampled approximately monthly during the open-water season since 1983 as part of a joint monitoring program conducted by Alberta Environment and Alberta Recreation and Parks (Alta. Envir. n.d.[fa]). Fish and Wildlife Division has monitored the dissolved oxygen concentration of the water periodically since the 1970s, and frequently since installation of an aerator in October 1983 (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.; Schroeder 1984; 1988).

Moonshine Lake has fresh water that is very hard and well-buffered (TABLE 3). The dominant ions are sulphate and bicarbonate.

The lake is typical of very shallow water bodies: the temperature during summer is usually uniform from top to bottom and the water column is usually well oxygenated. A slight depletion in dissolved oxygen concentration was detected near the bottom in August 1983 and July 1986 (FIGURE 4). This was because the rate of oxygen consumption by organisms in the surface sediments was higher than the rate of oxygen replenishment from the atmosphere. In some years, as in June 1977, the concentration of dissolved oxygen has fallen to critical levels and a summerkill has occurred. During winter, dissolved oxygen concentrations also have fallen to critically low levels. In the winter of 1981/82, most of the fish population died when oxygen concentrations at the surface fell to 0.2 mg/L. A few northern pike survived and the lake was restocked with rainbow trout the following summer. During the next winter (1982/83), oxygen concentrations again fell below critical values, and a partial winterkill occurred. An aeration system was installed in the lake in October 1983 and modified in January 1984. After a larger compressor was installed in February 1986, the aerator was able to overcome the high oxygen demand. Although dissolved oxygen levels were only 2.5 mg/L from surface to bottom in March 1986 (FIGURE 4), surface concentrations were 6.8 mg/L in February 1987, 9.0 mg/L and 4.4 mg/L at two locations in February 1988, and 4.2 mg/L in February 1989.

Moonshine Lake is eutrophic. The highest chlorophyll a level recorded in the lake was 50 µg/L on 26 July 1983. Over the period of record, phosphorus and chlorophyll a levels were lowest in May and June, increased toward midsummer and reached a maximum in July or August, as in 1986 (FIGURE 5). This pattern is typical of many shallow lakes in Alberta . Total phosphorus and chlorophyll a values in Moonshine Lake vary considerably between years. In 1983, the average phosphorus and chlorophyll a concentrations were much higher than in 1986 (TABLE 4). It is possible that wintertime aeration affects these variables during the open-water season. Under ice cover, an oxygenated water column could inhibit phosphorus release from sediments so that phosphorus levels would be lower at the start of the growing season in May.

Biological Characteristics


There are no detailed data available for the phytoplankton in Moonshine Lake. In July 1987, Fish and Wildlife Division noted the dominance of the blue-green genus Aphanizomenon (Schroeder 1987).

In July 1985, submergent aquatic macrophytes around the shoreline were surveyed by Fish and Wildlife Division (Schroeder 1985). In order of abundance, the four species identified were small-leaf pondweed (Potamogeton pusillus), northern watermilfoil (Myriophyllum exalbescens), Richardson pondweed (P. richardsonii) and flat-stemmed pondweed (P. zosteriformis). The highest density of vegetation was found along the south and southwest shores near the boat launch and beach. Small-leaf pondweed and northern watermilfoil were the main species in these areas. These two species, as well as Richardson pondweed, also grew densely at the northwest corner of the lake near the inlet and outlet. Very little vegetation grew along the north shore, except for a band of Richardson pondweed and flat-stemmed pondweed at the northeast corner near the dam. The only species of emergent vegetation noted was common cattail (Typha latifolia). In 1984, 1985 and 1987, mechanical control measures were used to clear vegetation from areas near the boat launch, beach, and along the dam (Schroeder 1985; Whitelock 1988).


No studies of the zooplankton or benthic invertebrates in Moonshine Lake have been conducted. Rainbow trout are known to feed on scuds (Amphipoda) (Schroeder 1987).


Four species of fish have been reported in the lake: rainbow trout, northern pike, stickleback and an unspecified minnow. Yellow perch were stocked in 1965, but the population did not survive. Between 1969 and 1988, rainbow trout were stocked in all but two years. The lack of suitable trout-spawning habitat requires that the lake be stocked regularly to maintain the trout population. Since 1984, the average annual stocking rate has been 38,000 trout fingerlings in the 5- to 10-cm-length range, or 1,100 trout/ha (Schroeder 1987). Northern pike were stocked only twice, in 1965 and 1966. They survived a summerkill in 1977 and winterkills in 1981/82 and 1982/83, but now they are the target of a spring trapping program implemented by Fish and Wildlife Divison in 1986 (Schroeder 1984; 1986). Northern pike prey upon small rainbow trout, so they are considered an undesirable species in this lake, where trout are the favoured sport fish.

Test nets in July 1987 caught 269 rainbow trout and only 3 northern pike (Schroeder 1987). The two oldest trout in the sample (age 2+) had a mean weight of 1,765 g. Although age 1+ trout in Moonshine Lake gain weight more slowly than trout in most of the other six lakes surveyed in the Peace River region, their gain in length is comparable (TABLE 5).

Anglers have been surveyed frequently at Moonshine Lake: in 1971, 1976, 1979, and annually from 1981 to 1986 (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). Most anglers interviewed live within an 80-km radius of the lake. The fishing intensity varied between years and between seasons (TABLE 6). Generally, the fishing intensity is high year-round and the catch rate is good (Schroeder 1988).


In a 1977 survey by Alberta Recreation, Parks and Wildlife, 85 species of birds were observed in Moonshine Lake Provincial Park (Wallis 1977; Zurfluh 1982). Swamp Sparrows, Common Snipe, Solitary Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs were among the species sighted in boggy areas of the park, and Mallards, Green-winged Teal, Sora, American Coots, Common Snipe and Red-winged Black-birds were present at a large marsh in the southwest part of the park. Spotted Sandpipers were observed along the shore of Moonshine Lake and Tree Swallows were observed feeding over the lake. Other species that used the lake were Surf Scoters, Horned Grebes and Common Goldeneye. Barred Owls were heard at the edge of a bog due west of the northeast part of the lake.

Mammals present in the park include moose, mule deer, black bears, coyotes, beavers, muskrats, red squirrels and least chipmunks (Wallis 1977; Zurfluh 1982). Beaver are a problem because they build dams on the inlet to Moonshine Lake.

M.E. Bradford


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MacMillan, R.A. and G.M Greenlee. 1977. Soil survey of Moonshine Lake Provincial Park and interpretation for recreational use. Alta. Inst. Pedol. Rep. No. M-77-1. Alta. Res. Counc., Edmonton.

Schroeder, D.G. 1984. Progress report on the aeration system at Moonshine Lake. Alta. En. Nat. Resour., Fish Wild. Div. Unpubl. rep., Peace River.

-----. 1985. Test netting and aquatic vegetation survey of Moonshine Lake, July 1985. Alta. En. Nat. Resour., Fish Wild. Div. Unpubl. rep., Peace River.

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Wallis, C. 1977. Mini-master planning (1977): Resource assessment of Moonshine Lake Provincial Park. Alta. Rec. Parks Wild., Parks Div., Edmonton.

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Zurfluh, K.A. 1982. Moonshine Lake Provincial Park resource management document 1982. Alta. Rec. Parks, Parks Div., Edmonton.