Outdoor notes: Campground electricity among Chadron State Park improvements
Campers at Chadron State Park soon will have more power — more electrical power, that is. Later this year, workers are scheduled to upgrade 44 campsites to 50-amp electricity.
With the 25 other campsites that have received the upgrade in recent years, all of the park’s paved camper sites will now have 50 amps.
The improvements complement many other campground upgrades in recent years, including six sites upgraded to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and a new showerhouse.
Other improvements include the installation of a new ceiling at the Trading Post, the park’s activities center, this winter. That improvement is the latest in a string of projects to give new life to the building, which was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. They include an upgrade to its heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, along with a new restroom, siding, floor and sidewalks.
“With all the improvements, this building has really become a showpiece for the park,” said Gregg Galbraith, park superintendent. “It’s a great place for people to sit down for a drink or snack on a hot summer’s day.”
Prior to the summer, workers are scheduled to finish the new picnic shelter near Pinecone Butte on the north-central portion of the scenic loop road. As a matter of convenience for its users, the new Pinecone Shelter is being constructed closer to the parking stalls than the one it’s replacing, and at a higher elevation with a more scenic vantage.
“It will be easier for people to get from their vehicles to the shelter, and it’s closer to the bathrooms,” Galbraith said.
The old Pinecone shelter was moved and renovated to replace the old Sawmill Shelter, which was sagging from age. It is located near Steamboat Butte on the west side of the scenic loop.
All 16 of the park’s rustic cabins also recently received water valve replacements, along with cabinetry and other improvements.
In addition, new roofing was installed on four cabins and the group event building last year.
“We’ve done a lot of improvements to the group event complex, which continues to gain popularity as a place for people to have meetings,” Galbraith said.
In recent years, the park also has received the new indoor shooting complex, new asphalt pavement and a new entrance sign. The Nebraska Public Power District also upgraded the park’s primary electrical service, including the installation of new transformers.
These projects largely have been funded by Capital Maintenance Funds, which were established by the Nebraska Legislature in 2016 to help preserve Nebraska’s public outdoor recreation facilities and parklands; state and federal sources; and Nebraska Game and Parks’ funds generated from user fees of the state park system.
Low oxygen causing problems for Sandhills lakes
Winter Storm Diaz, the massive blizzard that moved across Nebraska in December 2022, now has claimed less visible victims — countless fish in at least 20 Sandhills and Panhandle lakes.
Low oxygen levels have been recorded in many of the regions’ shallow, highly vegetated lakes, said Al Hanson, fisheries supervisor for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s northwestern district. As anglers are reporting dead plants and fish on their underwater cameras, people making long trips to Sandhills lakes for fishing in the near future likely will be disappointed.
Winterkills can occur when snow is deep, ice is thick and ice is covered by snow for a long time, Hanson said. These variables combined prevent light from reaching the plants below.
“When the photosynthesis stops, imagine that as a big hay meadow down there and all that hay has died,” he said. “As it decays, it creates hydrogen sulfide, reduces oxygen levels, and creates toxic conditions for fish and other aquatic species. Unfortunately, we can’t do anything about it.”
Low water levels from drought have worsened the problem.
Oxygen tests administered by Hanson and his coworkers have found numerous lakes below the level at which fish begin to die, about 1½ parts per million. The list of sites suspected to have significant winterkill include most of the lakes on the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge; Walgren and Cottonwood state recreation areas; Smith Lake, Shell Lake, Avocet, Frye and Defair wildlife management areas; and Smith Lake, Island Lake and Crane Lake on the Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
Others, such as Box Butte and Lake Minatare state recreation areas, Whitney Lake wildlife management area, Winters Creek Lake on the North Platte National Wildlife Refuge, were found to have sufficient oxygen levels.
After the ice melts, fisheries staff will conduct surveys to assess winterkill severity. Hanson is hopeful some fish have survived to serve as breeding stock for coming years. Based on survey results, Game and Parks will prioritize lakes that need initial restocking with largemouth bass, bluegills and yellow perch, and hatcheries will do their best to meet demand.
He is optimistic the lakes will recover and offer outstanding fisheries as they have in the past.
“In three growing seasons, we can have perch up to 10½ inches in these lakes. Bluegill get about 7 inches and bass about 12 to 14. We’ll rebound, but it’s not going to be a one-year thing.”
Hanson said this winter is similar to those of 1996-’97, 1984-’85 and 1978-’79, when prior large winterkills occurred.
Catch these Game and Parks education events in March
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission educators have scheduled interesting and engaging events for the curious in March. Here are some opportunities:
Little Saplings program presents Spring Migration
Adults looking to explore the outdoors with their young children are invited to Little Saplings, a monthly early childhood nature discovery program at Schramm Education Center near Gretna.
The 2023 series continues March 1 with the theme Spring Migration at 9 a.m. It is designed for children ages 2-5 and their adult caregiver. The cost is $4 per child and $5 per adult per program and includes admission to the Education Center after the program.
See the calendar event entry at calendar.outdoornebraska.gov for more information.
Join the Winter Family Nature Club
Join the Winter Family Nature Club, an effort to empower families to explore nature and practice outdoor skills even in wintertime.
The final event in the four-month series is from 1-2:30 p.m. March 11 at Maskenthine Lake Recreation Area near Stanton.
Wildcat Tales preschool program is March 14
Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area will host the monthly Wildcat Tales preschool program March 14.
The program Leaping Leprechaun will meet at the Nature Center at 10 a.m. Mountain time. There will be a lesson plan, story and hands-on activity specifically targeted for children ages 2-6 years.
The program is free, but a vehicle park entry permit is required. For more information, contact the Nature Center at 308-436-3777. Children must be accompanied by an adult.
Homeschool Hike set for March 15-16 at Schramm Park SRA
Homeschool families are invited to join an outdoor educator on a guided hike to learn about evergreens at Schramm Park State Recreation Area near Gretna during the Homeschool Hikes program March 15 at 9 a.m. and March 16 at 2 p.m.
Homeschool Hikes is a monthly nature exploration program hosted by the Schramm Education Center geared toward homeschool families.
Participants are encouraged to RSVP in advance through the event listing at calendar.outdoornebraska.gov. Cost is $4 per child and $5 per adult per program. This includes admission to the Schramm Education Center after the program. Schramm Family Pass members participate free.
This program is recommended for ages 5 and up.
Participants should dress in season-appropriate layers and wear closed-toed shoes that can get dirty. Hats and water bottles are recommended.
Wildlife viewers’ survey topic of webinar
Join the free virtual webinar Wildlife Viewer Survey: Enhancing Relevancy and Engaging a Broader Constituency at 12:30 p.m. Central time March 8.
Wildlife viewing is one of the fastest growing wildlife-related recreation activities in the nation, but wildlife viewers do not contribute much to funding for wildlife conservation. In 2022, a survey of motivations, interests and behaviors of wildlife viewers was conducted by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ Wildlife Viewing and Nature Tourism Workgroup. Learn the results of this survey.
This webinar is part of the Conservation Education Lunch and Learn Series, which dives into the science behind educational efforts and practices by learning from experts on a variety of science and educational topics. Direct questions to [email protected].
Visit the event listing at calendar.outdoornebraska.gov to register and get more information.
Wildcat Hills to host Beautiful Butterflies homeschool program
Learn about butterflies, their adaptions and the places they call home during the Wildcat Hills Homeschool program Beautiful Butterflies on March 16.
This program meets at 10 a.m. Mountain time at the Wildcat Hills Nature Center.
The program is free, but a vehicle park entry permit is required. For more information contact the Nature Center at 308-436-3777. Children must be accompanied by an adult.
Venture Parks offer education programs in March
A variety of fun, educational events are scheduled throughout March in Nebraska’s Venture Parks.
Venture Parks, Nebraska’s four state parks and recreation areas along the Platte River – Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, Platte River State Park, Schramm Park State Recreation Area and Louisville State Recreation Area – are where unique experiences and enhanced camping opportunities have been created in response to demand.
Spring Break Days – Fight boredom and spend a day off from school at Spring Break Days. This fun, educational event will be March 10 and 17 at Schramm Education Center.
The theme is Fabulous Foxes, as participants learn all about foxes. There are activities from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and ages 4-12, and ages 3 and under free.
Animal Feedings – Observe an animal feeding daily at 10:30 a.m. in March at Schramm Education Center and learn about the park’s animal care and the animals’ unique adaptations. This program is free with paid admission and will meet in the lobby.
Celebrate spring and World Frog Day – The official start of spring is March 20, which also is World Frog Day. Hop on out to Schramm Education Center to learn about frogs and take a spring stroll outside. We’ll gather at 11 a.m. in the lobby. No admission required for this free, outdoor program.
Geocaching in an app with Adventure Lab – The Venture Park Adventure is a virtual geocache program that will lead participants on a mission through the four Venture Parks. Download the Adventure Lab app, then use your phone’s native QR code scanner to open the NGPC Venture Adventure and start exploring park destinations. Each GPS location will give a clue to solve and enter in the app to complete the challenge.
Educator workshop includes opportunity to visit greater prairie-chicken lek
Join Nebraska Forest Service and Nebraska Game and Parks for a combined Project Learning Tree and Project WILD workshop focused on the biology and behaviors of greater prairie-chickens. This workshop March 17-18 in North Platte will equip educators with curriculum and the experience of seeing prairie chickens in-person before teaching about them in their classroomsDuring this workshop at the West Central Research and Extension Center, participants will have the opportunity to view a lek from a viewing blind to watch the birds’ unique mating rituals.
Lessons covered during this workshop will best suit educators of youth in K-8 settings, but all educators are welcome to attend.
Full scholarships are available to cover the cost of registration thanks to the Nebraska Environmental Trust. Email [email protected].