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Wildcat Hills improvements popular

School bus at Nature Center
Students disembark the school bus upon arrival to the Outdoor Discovery Program at the newly renovated Wildcat Hills Nature Center. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)

One of the Nebraska state park system’s most modern attractions happens to be in the Panhandle. Those of you who have not visited the Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area south of Gering in the past year or so are sure to like what you see when you do.

The newly renovated and expanded Nature Center with its interactive displays and event space have been a big hit among visitors, as has the new shooting complex that features targets for a variety of firearms and archery equipment. The new features were rolled out in fall 2016 and spring 2017.

In addition to those facilities, the park features 1,094 acres of wilderness to help visitors gain a deeper appreciation for the outdoors. Many have grown to love the park’s rugged evergreen-studded topography, along with a great view of the North Platte valley. Camping, picnicking, hiking and biking are just a few of the activities available for visitors. Perhaps most of all, it is a great place to take the kids.

More than 6,000 children annually take part in education programs at the Nature Center. It has been especially popular in recent weeks for school field trips.

In early May, the center opened its doors to more than 700 students of Panhandle schools for the annual Outdoor Discovery Program – an event that introduces children to nature through a series of stations focused on a wide variety of outdoor activities. The program has traditionally been at the Trails West YMCA Camp in Scottsbluff, but moved this year to take advantage of the improvements at Wildcat Hills.

One new feature this year to help guide kids in their exploration of the park is the Junior Explorer program. The program features a 16-page full-color book with activities for children ages 4 and up. In addition to traditional activities, such as a word search and maze, the program has activities that require children to find and study natural features, such as animal tracks and plants. The program has a definite Wildcat Hills flavor, with topics specific to the area.

On May 19, which is Free Park Entry and Fishing Day and the park’s annual Wildcat Hills Wildlands Day, the Nature Center will kick off the program and begin awarding badges and certificates to children who complete it. It will be available on an ongoing basis after that.

Whether you are a junior explorer, or a senior one, I hope a visit to this great Panhandle attraction is in your plans. You can learn more about the park at outdoornebraska.org/wildcathills.

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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