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Fort Robinson all saddled up for summer

Jim Miller Roping
Fort Robinson State Park superintendent Jim Miller ropes a steer during the park’s weekly rodeo. The rodeos each Thursday night, which feature Fort Robinson staff and members of the surrounding community, are one of the many activities that celebrate the park’s western heritage. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)

Nebraska has eight state parks and another 69 properties within our state park system. The largest of all of these is right in our neighborhood – the 22,000-acre Fort Robinson State Park.

One of the most challenging questions people not overly familiar with our region ask is, “What is there to do at Fort Robinson?” That is certainly not because I am hard-pressed to find things for  them to do at the former U.S. Cavalry fort. It is because the place has such a diverse set of attractions that I never know where to start.

White River Tubing
Visitors looking to cool off can take a float down the White River. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)

History and paleontology buffs, horseback riders, hikers, bikers, hunters, anglers, birdwatchers and other naturalists, swimmers, tent campers, RV campers, playgoers and families just looking to create quality time in a scenic and historic setting … they all love visiting the Pine Ridge’s premier attraction.

Jim Miller became the lead superintendent at Fort Robinson last year when longtime superintendent Mike Morava advanced to a new regional supervisor position for parks in the northern Panhandle.

Miller is certainly no stranger to Fort Robinson. He started as a temporary worker there about 20 years ago, advanced to a facility maintenance position, and then later became a superintendent where his duties included supervision of the fort’s restaurant.

Now he oversees that attraction, along with the whole park. He knows well all that the fort has to offer.

“We have a wealth of history and activities here,” Miller said. “People can come and stay for a week and, between the history and activities, they still haven’t quite seen or done it all. And, they enjoy it enough that they come back every year.”

Smiley Canyon
The sun rises over Smiley Canyon at Fort Robinson State Park. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)

In addition, of course, visitors enjoy the park’s natural beauty.

“There’s not any corn fields out here,” he said. “It’s all rolling hills, grass, buttes and pine trees. When you talk about getting outdoors, you don’t get outdoors any better than you do here.”

Miller and the other seven full-time staff members have been busy getting all of the amenities ready and staff trained. The park hires about 115 temporary employees for the summer and the pool is limited.

Crawford, the nearest community, has a population of just 951. To fill the staff, the park hires high school students and seniors. Some employees are past visitors from afar who could not get enough.

Fort Robinson Fog
Fog hangs among the Red Cloud Buttes at Fort Robinson State Park. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)

“They love the place and inquire about coming back and working here,” Miller said.

One of the most noticeable upgrades at the park this year is a new restroom and shower house at the Soldier Creek Campground. The building was recently manufactured in Texas, delivered in three sections, and installed by crane. What is most remarkable to me is that it looks like many of the other historical buildings on the fort, with white siding and a green roof, but is molded entirely of concrete.

“A lot of people have stopped and said, ‘Man, that’s a snazzy green tin roof you put on it. And we tell them, ‘It’s not tin, it’s cement’,” Miller said.

Soldier Creek Showerhouse
The new shower house and restroom facility at the Soldier Creek Campground is constructed of concrete. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)

The building features restrooms for men and women, along with four individual private coin-operated shower stalls that are open to either sex.

Miller also said he’s excited to see a major project to improve fishing at the fort’s ponds, and said visitors can expect to see work begin on that sometime this summer. He is especially excited to see how it improves experiences for kids.

“Kids are our future and they’re going to have a lot better fishing access,” he said.

Regardless of what attracts you to Fort Robinson State Park, I hope this summer finds you making one or more trips there – and I hope to see you there when you do.

More information about Fort Robinson State Park:

Fort Robinson State Park Website

Justin Haag’s NEBRASKAland Article, July 2017

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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