Outdoor notes: Gracie Creek Pond temporarily closed to access as work begins on rehabilitation project
The Gracie Creek Pond in Loup County will be closed temporarily to fishing and public access as work on its rehabilitation will begin with equipment mobilization May 23. The project will continue through the summer.
Angler access will continue downstream of Nebraska Highway 96 and pond outlets.
This popular trout fishing pond, located at the upper end of Calamus Reservoir, was severely degraded with sedimentation during the 2019 spring flooding.
During the project, the pond level will be lowered by removing dam boards, and 30,000 cubic yards of accumulated sediment will be excavated. Other improvements include a sediment dike above the pond, a rock channel below the box culvert and additional sheet piling to stop erosion around the outlet culvert.
Nebraska Game and Parks urges safety while boating
Nebraskans will enjoy this summer boating on waters across the state. To mark National Safe Boating Week, May 21-27, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is urging boaters to keep safety the top priority.
Boaters and paddlers should not take safety for granted. Game and Parks suggests ways boaters may reduce the risk of incidents and help ensure a safe and enjoyable day on the water.
Before Launching – Ensure your boat is in good running condition. Get the boat registered and, if a nonresident, purchase an Aquatic Invasive Species sticker on Game and Parks’ website. Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return. Paddlers of kayaks or canoes should physically inspect their planned take-out point to make sure it is accessible.
Wear a Life Jacket – Children under age 13 and anybody on a personal watercraft are required by law to wear a United States Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device. People being towed by a boat on skis, a tube, or other similar device also must wear a life jacket. Every vessel, except sailboards, must carry a flotation device for each person on board.
Be Wary of Surroundings – Look around for other boats, personal watercraft, swimmers, stumps and other hazards. Speeds in excess of 5 mph are prohibited if within 30 yards of any other vessel, swimming area or dock. If padding a kayak or canoe, be aware of possible debris below the surface or under bridges.
Have All Required Safety Equipment – Life jackets, throw cushions, fire extinguishers and bailing devices are required on most boats.
Avoid Alcohol – Boat operators can become impaired with less alcohol than motor vehicle drivers due to heat and dehydration. Boating Under the Influence is a criminal violation and is enforced actively.
Watch the Weather – Storms can pop up quickly in Nebraska. Check the weather in advance and monitor it during the day, if necessary.
Avoid Hypothermia – Even though temperatures are rising, the water still can be cold. Hypothermia is caused by exposure to cold weather or water. Take caution to prevent hypothermia.
Legal Operators – Anyone born after Dec. 31, 1985, who operates a motorboat or personal watercraft in Nebraska must have successfully completed the Nebraska boating safety course. Anyone operating a motorboat or personal watercraft in Nebraska must be at least 14 years of age. For more information about boating regulations, view the 2022 Nebraska Boating Guide at OutdoorNebraska.gov/guides.
Celebrate Game and Parks’ aquatic habitat program with Day at the Lake
Join the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for a Day at the Lake, a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Aquatic Habitat Program at the recently renovated Conestoga State Recreation Area, just southwest of Lincoln.
A Day at the Lake, set for 3 to 7 p.m. June 18, will offer opportunities to fish from the bank or by kayak, experience fly-fishing or bowfishing — as well as the chance to use a stand-up paddleboard with PaddleLyfe, go kayaking or take a pontoon tour of the lake.
Participants may bring their own tackle, or use bait and tackle provided by Game and Parks. Volunteers will be available to help guests fish. Those age 16 and older will need a valid Nebraska fishing permit and can get one at OutdoorNebraska.org.
Anglers can talk with biologists and consultants who designed the renovation and learn about new features and fish species in the lake.
The Aquatic Habitat Program, funded by anglers, was the first of its kind in the nation when implemented. The program works to enhance aquatic ecosystems by implementing restoration techniques in-lake and in the watersheds that feed them. In addition to improving aquatic habitat and water quality, the program also works vigorously to improve boat and bank angler access at Nebraska waterbodies.
Conestoga Lake was the site of the largest Aquatic Habitat Program project in the program’s 25-year history. The fishery now offers largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, channel catfish, walleye and tiger muskellunge. Access enhancements included a new boat launch facility, separate kayak launch area, several new fishing piers and pads, and Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible features to get anglers closer to deep water.
Learn more about the rehabilitation and the program at OutdoorNebraska.org/AquaticHabitatProgram.
And then grab some sunscreen, get your park entry permit at OutdoorNebraska.org, and head to the lake for a day of fun.
Top 10 family-friendly trails in state parks
Memorial Day weekend is just around the corner. If you’re looking for ways to spend time with family, consider hiking at these 10 Nebraska state parks. These spots offer family-friendly trails set within scenic areas filled with amenities and attractions perfect for whiling away a summer’s day.
Buffalo Bill State Recreation Area
This park area offers camping and hiking next door to Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park, making it easy to tour the ranch house and barn that Col. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody built for his home during the heyday of his famous Wild West Show. Browse through a wealth of Cody memorabilia during your self-guided tour, and then take a break to wander the 5 miles of trails, which are rated “easy.”
Smith Falls State Park
Scenic Smith Falls State Park is home to Nebraska’s highest waterfall, also called Smith Falls. The state park is a popular destination for campers, as well as canoers, kayakers, tubers and others who visit the area to experience the beautiful Niobrara River. The park features short looping nature trails, along with restrooms and areas for picnicking.
Chadron State Park
Nestled in the Pine Ridge’s distinctive buttes and canyons, Chadron State Park is a popular spot for camping, vacations and even family reunions. Nearby attractions like Fort Robinson State Park, Agate Fossil Beds, Toadstool Geologic Park and others also make it an attractive spot. Park activities include fishing, camping, swimming and, of course, hiking. Chadron State Park offers 6 miles of mostly shaded hiking trails, and another 4 miles of mountain biking trails.
Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area
Situated high in a rocky escarpment in the Wildcat Hills, this park offers indoor interactive displays, interpretive programming, shooting sports and the exploration of more than 1,000 acres of wilderness. The nature center offers a stimulating learning environment perfect for kids, and the family-friendly Wildcat Hills Shooting Sports Complex provides diversion, too. Families can enjoy hiking the nature trail loop, which at just half a mile long, provides a nice family hike with a few ups and downs.
Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park
Called “the Pompeii of prehistoric animals” by National Geographic, Ashfall Fossil Beds features a live dig and displays of carefully preserved, intact skeletons. Nearly 12 million years ago, volcanic ash engulfed this ancient watering hole, entombing innumerable animals. Visit the Rhino Barn to see them, and view interpretive displays and a working fossil preparation laboratory at the Visitor Center. Take a break to stroll a short looping nature trail.
Fort Kearny State Recreation Area
Fort Kearny has plenty of amenities for a relaxing summer day, including camping, modern restrooms, drinking water, picnic tables, grills, an accessible fishing pier, showers and more. The park also includes a mile-long nature trail and the unique Fort Kearny hike-bike trail, which crosses both channels of the Platte River and was once a segment of the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad. The Fort Kearny hike-bike trail is a 1.77-mile segment of the 13.10-mile trail that connects Fort Kearny SRA to Cottonmill Park and other trail segments throughout the city of Kearney.
Eugene T. Mahoney State Park
This modern state park is the perfect destination for a family escape. Families can visit the aquatic center and indoor playground, adventure through the treetop ropes course, play mini golf, ride horses, climb the observation tower or enjoy indoor rock climbing. A paved trail throughout the park makes it easy to venture from one attraction to the next, while the Railroad Trail takes visitors on a stroll through the trees near Peter Kiewit Lodge.
Arbor Lodge State Historical Park
This beautiful estate in Nebraska City was home to J. Sterling Morton, founder of Arbor Day. From its beginning in 1855 as a four-room frame house, the magnificent mansion grew to 52 rooms through several remodelings. Authentic furnishings grace the rooms and displays capture the life and times of this noted figure. The park also includes an arboretum, Italian terraced garden, log cabin, more than 200 varieties of lilacs and a tree-themed playground. Several short nature trails are available, including a lilac walk.
Schramm Park State Recreation Area
Visitors refer to Schramm Park State Recreation Area as a hidden gem nestled among the rolling hills of the Platte River valley. Families can explore a geologic display, feed fish in cool water trout ponds, tour the Schramm Education Center and enjoy a picnic on the bluffs. The park is also a noted destination for birdwatching. Enjoy the scenery and take a walk on the 1.5-mile loop, which is ideal for families and offers interpretive signage highlighting the flora and fauna of the park.
Johnson Lake State Recreation Area
Excellent camping, fishing and water sports are hallmarks of this popular area, just 10 miles south of Lexington. This recreation area packs a lot of outdoor fun in 68 acres and provides three access points to the 2,068-acre lake. It also offers many picnicking areas and a playground. Take your time and enjoy a leisurely stroll on a hiking trail encircling the lake.
To learn more about these park areas, visit OutdoorNebraska.org. A state park entry permit is required for each vehicle entering a park.
Explore the parks with these Game and Parks events in June
Spend some time this summer in Nebraska’s state parks. During June, a variety of events are planned for those interested in history, conservation, nature and just having a good time. Here are several examples:
Buffalo Bill State Recreation Area Bioblitz
Enjoy two days of exploring the outdoors June 3-4 at the Buffalo Bill State Recreation Area Bioblitz in North Platte.
The information participants collect during the Bioblitz is used by wildlife biologists to conserve Nebraska’s wildlife.
Biologists from all over Nebraska will show participants the species they study. Nebraska’s conservation officers and the Nebraska Fur Harvesters will show pelts, skulls and bones of Nebraska native wildlife and answer any questions about wildlife law.
The event is free. A vehicle park entry permit is required. Contact Meghan Manary for more information at [email protected] or see the calendar entry at calendar.outdoornebraska.gov.
Fort Atkinson to host Living History June 4-5
Travel 200 years back in time and experience living history weekend at Fort Atkinson State Historical Park on June 4-5.
On June 4 at 11 a.m., Suzanne Gucciardo will present on the diseases of Fort Atkinson in 1822 and the cures. Visitors will have the opportunity to walk along with “Lt. Gabriel Field and visitor Rev. Salmon Giddings” to learn about the fort on June 4 at 1 p.m. and June 5 at 11 a.m.
From noon-3 p.m., the public will have the opportunity to “interpret” a sick soldier and follow the path from the surgeon’s office to discover his fate. Interested volunteers should enter at the west gate for directions.
For more information on the day’s schedule of events, see the calendar entry at calendar.outdoornebraska.gov.
A valid Nebraska park entry permit is required for all vehicles to enter the park and can be purchased at the site. A per person fee is required at the Harold W. Andersen Visitor Center of $2 per adult and $1 per child. For more information, contact the park at [email protected] or 402-468-5611.
Rock Creek Trail Days scheduled for June 4-5
Explore a place where road ranches served pioneers along the Oregon-California Trail, Pony Express riders carried mail across the West, and Wild Bill Hickok began a legendary career as a gunfighter. Rock Creek Trail Days is set for June 4-5 at Rock Creek Station State Historical Park.
The visitor center will be open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. each day. A buffalo stew cookout and guest speaker are scheduled for June 4.
For more information, see the calendar entry at calendar.outdoornebraska.gov. A vehicle park entry permit required.
Enders Outdoor Extravaganza set for June 25
Come to Enders Reservoir State Recreation Area on June 25 and enjoy a full day of activities for all ages with the Enders Outdoor Extravaganza.
Activities will include a 5K run, car show, working truck show, tractor show, Dutch oven cooking, BBQ smoke-off, outdoor games, kayaking, petting zoo, bounce house and live music.
For more information on the day’s schedule of events, see the calendar entry at calendar.outdoornebraska.gov.
Come to Wildcat Hills SRA for Tiny Creatures, Big Impacts
During National Pollinator Week, come to Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area on June 25 for Tiny Creatures, Big Impacts.
At this free event, which starts at 9 a.m. Mountain time, participants can discover many of the area pollinators and the roles they play in the environment. A vehicle park entry permit is required.
National Pollinator Week is June 20-26.
Fort Robinson to host Creatures of the Night: Bats
Discover the creatures that go bump in the night and uncover the mysteries of these nocturnal critters in the program Creatures of the Night: Bats, June 25 at Fort Robinson State Park.
See these secretive animals up close and learn about research being done to save bats. This free program begins at 8:30 p.m. Mountain time. A vehicle park entry permit is required.
After record year, Game and Parks reminds boaters to help stop aquatic invasive species
While many Nebraskans are eager to enjoy Memorial Day weekend boating, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission urges them to be wary of pesky hitchhikers that invade the state’s waters.
To prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, Game and Parks watercraft inspectors will be checking boats before they launch at lakes around the state. If zebra mussels are found attached to the boat, it will not be allowed to launch.
Last year Game and Parks inspected more than 2,000 watercraft, a record number in the state’s history. Three boats were found having zebra mussels attached.
A zebra mussel is a highly invasive aquatic species that looks like a D-shaped clam, with alternating light and dark bands. Most zebra mussels are less than an inch long. They form dense colonies and filter large quantities of plankton from water, decreasing the food supply for native species.
In addition, these mussels pollute swimming areas with sharp shells and clog water intake pipes. The Missouri River has an existing zebra mussel population along its entire length downstream of Gavins Point Dam. Lewis and Clark Lake, Lake Yankton and the Offutt Base Lake are the only other confirmed Nebraska waters that have established zebra mussel populations.
Zebra mussels can live up to two weeks out of water and young zebra mussels – or veligers – are invisible to the naked eye and can be spread through any water left undrained. Boaters should clean all visible plants, mud, or animals, drain all water within the boat, including the motor, and dry their boat for five days before going to another water body.
Game and Parks regulations require anglers, hunters and boaters conduct clean, drain and dry procedures before leaving a water body and are not allowed to arrive at a water body with any water from another water body.
In addition, Game and Parks detected invasive aquatic plants in 17 new water bodies across the state. Invasive aquatic plants can spread through tiny leaf fragments from water body to another.
“We’re asking the public to help us protect our waters from invasive species,” said Kristopher Stahr, Game and Parks’ aquatic invasive species program manager. “We need everyone to always clean, drain, and dry their watercraft and to report new infestations quickly. It only takes one person introducing an invasive species to destroy a lake for everyone”.
Visit stopaquatichitchhikers.org for more details on the Clean, Drain and Dry procedure and neinvasives.com for information about invasive species in the state.
The public is encouraged to report any suspected observation of zebra mussels or other aquatic invasive species to Game and Parks at 402-471-7602 or at [email protected].