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Ponds at Fort Robinson State Park getting major improvements

Lower Ice House Pond
The lower Ice House Pond is among those scheduled for renovations at Fort Robinson State Park. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)

CRAWFORD, Neb. – The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is moving forward with a comprehensive plan to improve the fishing at most of the 11 ponds in Fort Robinson State Park.

Joe Rydell of Alliance, Commission fisheries biologist, said the ponds provide angling opportunities to countless park visitors each year but are in need of an upgrade and have untapped potential. Fed by coldwater streams and springs, many of the ponds in the 22,000-acre park served the Crawford National Fish Hatchery, constructed in the late 1920s. 

“They have aging outlet structures, are shallow and have limited access due to steep terrain and overgrown brush along the shorelines,” he said. “Some of the ponds have high levels of sediment from the 1991 flood.”

He said the project, with phased construction that may begin this summer, will increase depth, bring new outlet structures and improve access. Nebraska-based JEO Consulting Group, which is drawing detailed plans for the project, is in the final design stages and obtaining proper permits for the project’s first phase and construction.

Improvements to six ponds, each less than two acres, are set for the first stage. That phase, largely funded by the Nebraska Aquatic Habitat Stamp and dollars generated from a manufacturers excise tax on fishing equipment through the federal Sport Fish Restoration Program, brings major improvements to three of the four Grabel Ponds, Cherry Creek Pond and the latter’s adjacent diversion reservoir. Improvements to the lower Ice House Pond are also scheduled for phase one.

Along with the new outlet structures and deepening the ponds as much as 10 feet in places, the plan calls for adding numerous fish habitat structures such as brush piles, gravel beds and rock. In order to improve access workers will install features such as kayak launches, fishing piers and angler access pads, many compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. They will also clear some overgrown trees and other vegetation along shorelines.

Rydell said the new outlet structures will be designed to work better and be safer than the ones there now, which are about a century old. As evidence of the project’s need, a damming board in the lower Ice House Pond’s outlet structure broke late last summer causing its water level to fall 13 feet overnight. That issue increased the urgency for work on the pond.

The second phase of the project includes improvements to two ponds along Soldier Creek, Carter P. Johnson Reservoir and the smaller Crazy Horse Pond about a mile downstream. Carter P. Johnson is not included in the Aquatic Habitat Program, so other funding options are being explored for it. It is the largest of the park’s ponds at 15 acres and was renovated in 1994-1995 prior to the creation of the Aquatic Habitat Stamp.

The ponds at Fort Robinson offer a variety of game fish, including largemouth bass, rainbow trout, bluegills, crappies, rock bass and channel catfish. Anglers also pursue a variety of trout species in Soldier Creek and the White River.

Fishing at Grabel Ponds
A young fisherman attempts to make a catch using a fly rod at Grabel Ponds, which are among those scheduled to receive access and habitat improvements at Fort Robinson State Park. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)

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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