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Panhandle parks celebrating Free Entry Day

CHADRON – Three Nebraska Game and Parks Commission attractions in the Panhandle are planning special activities for Free Park Entry and Fishing Day on Saturday, May 20.

Free Park Entry and Fishing Day is an annual event in which the Commission 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.

Chadron State Park near Chadron — The Bird Conservancy of the Rockies and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission are teaming up with an event to celebrate Nebraska Migratory Bird Month.

The event at Chadron State Park will begin with a walk at 9 a.m. to observe birds, in which birdwatchers of all ages ranging from novice to expert will meet north of the park’s tennis courts. At 10 a.m., children can participate in bird-themed educational activities.

The park will also offer free paddleboat rides at its pond and the Trading Post will be open that day.

Fort Robinson State Park near Crawford – Park visitors will enjoy a fishing derby for kids and free guided rides throughout the park. 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. Fort Robinson also will have free jeep rides and hayrack tours. The park’s museums will be open and a barbecue lunch for $7 will be offered west of the lodge from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area and Nature Center near Gering – Wildcat Hills will celebrate with its annual Wildlands Day. Activities, which are set from 9 a.m. to noon, will include a bird hike, wildflower walk, bighorn sheep tour, children’s crafts and more. The activities will be based at the newly renovated and expanded Wildcat Hills Nature Center. In addition, the park’s shooting complex will be open for business.

A Nebraska park entry permit is usually required for vehicles entering State Parks, State Recreation Areas and State Historical Parks. Other attractions in the Commission’s Northwest District that usually require a park entry permit but will be open free of charge Saturday: Ash Hollow State Historical Park near Lewellen, Box Butte Reservoir SRA near Hemingford, Bowring Ranch SHP near Merriman, Bridgeport SRA near Bridgeport, Cottonwood Lake SRA near Merriman, Merritt Reservoir SRA near Valentine, Lake Minatare SRA near Minatare, Smith Falls SP near Valentine and Walgren Lake SRA near Hay Springs.

Both daily and annual permits for the remainder of the year are available online at outdoornebraska.org or from vendors throughout 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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