Dave Kinnamon, park superintendent at Lewis and Clark Lake State Recreation Area (SRA), has had his share of experience with fire. Before accepting his current position at the SRA near Crofton in late 2013, Kinnamon served as park superintendent at Chadron State Park in western Nebraska, where he helped to combat the forest fires of 2012. Prior to leaving Chadron, Kinnamon helped the park obtain a surplus fire truck from the City of Seward Fire and Rescue to allow park staff to stamp out future fires in the park and surrounding areas.
When Kinnamon arrived at Lewis and Clark Lake two years ago, one of the first problems he noticed was the high density of cedar trees. With his experience with fire out west Kinnamon was invited to speak to landowners, and at the meeting, he met with Paul Schoenberner, a volunteer firefighter, who told him that Crofton Fire and Rescue was looking to surplus its old grass rig fire truck. Soon, Crofton Fire and Rescue transferred the truck to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for just $1. Still in good shape, the Ford 1983 3/4 ton 4×4 pickup truck is equipped with a 300-gallon tank in the back and the capacity to run two hoses.
“They were interested to the point that if there is a fire out in the park or nearby, that we could have this truck available to help out, which was what park staff did in Chadron. We worked with the community,” said Kinnamon, who hopes to utilize the newly acquired grass rig similarly at Lewis and Clark SRA, Crofton and surrounding communities. A new sticker that reads “People Partnerships Prevention” can be seen on the truck’s side.
The grass rig will also be available to Nebraska Game and Parks Commission staff during controlled burns to open up habitat for wildlife. “And if we have another fire out west, it could be called upon out there as state equipment,” said Kinnamon.
Although he has yet to use the grass rig, the park superintendent strongly urges landowners by Lewis and Clark Lake to consider thinning out trees near their property in the meantime. Cedar trees, basically fuel, can burn wildly if left unchecked.
“Same scenario, just different types of trees,” said Kinnamon. “We had ponderosa forests out in Chadron, but there are many cedars here and many beautiful estates and homes built inside them. It’s just another matchbox ready to go.”
Prior to the fires of 2012 in Chadron, Commission horticulturalist Mike Groenewold and his team had thinned out Chadron State Park. When the fire came through the U.S. Forest Service area, private land and then hit the park, Commission staff were able to fight and stop it.
“Sure, we got some trees scorched. But you go out there and look at how many trees are still alive compared to the Forest Service, it’s night and day difference and that’s what saved our buildings– they didn’t thin their forests. The effort is worth it,” said Kinnamon.