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Panhandle Passages: Closer to Home

Reflections show symmetry in the shade trees at a popular fishing spot on the Chadron State Park lagoon.

My job with the Game and Parks commission and NEBRASKAland has taken me to some incredible places throughout the Panhandle and beyond in the first six months. With more than 40 Commission properties within 160 miles of my home, there is a lot to see and photograph in this spacious region. That being said, it seems some unbeatable travel opportunities await me right before my nose.

While I join others in the desire to set up camp at a location far away and see things I haven’t seen, I’ve never been disappointed after pulling the pop-up camper nine miles from our home to Chadron State Park. My family and I set out Saturday on a one-night camping trip to meet college friends who had brought their families from as far away as New Mexico for a stay in the park’s rustic cabins.

Similar to the drive to get there, our stay at Nebraska’s oldest state park was a short but enjoyable.

We arrived at about noon and stayed busy from the time we got there. First, we speedily set up the camper and settled into the campground. While dining on PB&Js, we noted how our spot was quiet, spacious and shady.

After lunch, we loaded up the fishing gear and harassed the trout in the park lagoon. Following that, we headed over to the nearby historical baseball field, where we “old-timers” showed our stuff in a game against our children. We won’t go into detail about the quality of “our stuff.”

Post-game activities for my son and I included a couple rounds of horseshoes at one of the park’s many well-maintained regulation pits while my daughter buzzed around the campground on her bicycle.

And finally, we rejoined the rest of the group at their cabins to do some catching up and reliving college memories. While we were remembering the glory days, our kids were making some memories of their own, along with some s’mores at the campfire.

Sunday, we were packed and headed home in time for my daughter to attend her morning Bible school singing engagement.

Children on bicycles buzz around the Chadron State Park campground.

With such a short stay, we didn’t fit in all the activities available at Chadron State Park: A dip in the pool, a ride on the paddleboats; a round of disc golf; a hike over the trails, or archery and tomahawks at the Trading Post. Fortunately, we live close enough that we can schedule those activities for other times.

The wildfires that entered the park last summer seemed a distant memory this weekend. With plenty to do and a scenic setting, the park has again become a hot spot for different reasons.

Chadron State Park is special to me but I know most Nebraskans have a place nearby to bank on for an enjoyable short camping trip. With school just around the corner, I hope they can get out and enjoy it while the gettin’ is good. Of course, with such convenience the gettin’ is almost always good.

Panhandle Passages is written by Justin Haag of Chadron, a public information officer for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and regional editor for NEBRASKAland magazine. He can be reached at justin.haag@nebraska.gov or 308-430-8515.

About Justin Haag

Justin Haag has served the Commission as a public information officer in the Panhandle since 2013. His duties include serving as regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine. Haag was raised in southwestern Nebraska, where he developed a love for fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chadron State College in 1996, he worked four years as an editor and reporter at newspapers in Chadron and McCook. Prior to joining the Commission in 2013, he worked 12 years as a communicator at Chadron State, serving as the institution’s media and public relations coordinator the last five. He and his wife, Cricket, live in Chadron, and have two children.

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