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Free Entry Day Activities Planned for Panhandle Parks

Lillie Schmidt of Gordon and other children try out binoculars during a bird watching activity at Chadron State Park. Three birding hikes are scheduled at parks throughout the Panhandle on Saturday. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)
Lillie Schmidt of Gordon and other children try out binoculars during a bird watching activity at Chadron State Park. Three birding hikes are scheduled at parks throughout the Panhandle on Saturday. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)

Parks throughout the Panhandle are planning special activities for Free Park Entry and Fishing Day on Saturday, May 16.

Free Park Entry and Fishing Day is an annual opportunity in which the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission allows fishing and entry to parks without requiring permits. It provides an opportunity for people to experience the state’s diverse park areas and fishing resources free of charge.

Following is a list of special activities at the region’s State Parks, State Recreation Areas and State Historical Parks. Those participating in hikes are encouraged to dress for the weather, bring water and appropriate footwear.

Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area near Gering – The Wildcat Hills Nature Center will be hosting an array of events for its annual Wildlands Day, highlighted by an 8k fun run, children’s crafts and hikes to observe birds, wildflowers and bighorn sheep. The fun run, which costs $20 per runner and has four age categories for men and women, begins at 8:30 a.m. with registration at 7:30 a.m. Prizes will be awarded for each division and each runner will receive a T-shirt and water bottle. The birding hike begins at 9:30 a.m. A program about butterflies, in addition to activities and crafts for children, will follow at 10 a.m. Participants of the bighorn sheep hike will meet at 11 a.m. near the nature center and caravan to the location of the sheep. The events will wrap up with a wildflower walk at 1 p.m.

Fort Robinson State Park near Crawford – A fishing derby, free rides and an open house will highlight activities at Fort Robinson State Park. The open house for the park’s newest lodging facility, the reconstruction of an 1891 Officers Quarters, will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Also, children ages 12 and under are being invited to participate in the park’s annual fishing derby at Carter P. Johnson Lake. The derby is set for 9 a.m. to noon. There is no entry fee for the derby and prizes will be awarded. Participating children who are Nebraska residents may enter to win a half-price lifetime hunting and fishing permit. Fort Robinson also will have free jeep rides and hayrack tours from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a break for lunch. Its museums will be open and a barbecue lunch for $6 will be offered west of the lodge from noon to 1:30 p.m.

Chadron State Park near Chadron – The newly renovated pond will be in the spotlight as park staff will be on hand throughout the day to assist young anglers with loaner equipment, bait and prizes. Also, park visitors are invited on a hike to observe the park’s diverse bird life from 9-10 a.m. beginning near the park’s headquarters. In addition, the park’s Trading Post will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Ash Hollow State Historical Park near Lewellen – Park visitors will get a guided tour of the many species of birds visiting Ash Hollow State Historical Park. Participants will meet at the visitors center at 8 a.m. for a bird watching tour of 2-3 miles along the Oregon-California trail through the park.

Other attractions in the Game and Parks Commission’s northwest district that usually require a permit but are open free of charge Saturday include Box Butte Reservoir SRA, Bowring Ranch SHP, Bridgeport SRA, Cottonwood Lake SRA, Merritt Reservoir SRA, Lake Minatare SRA, Smith Falls SP and Walgren Lake SRA.

Both daily and annual permits for the remainder of the year may be purchased online at outdoornebraska.org or from vendor sites across the state.

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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