This is a big week for Chadron State Park, the Nebraska attraction I call the “granddaddy of them all.” Chadron State Park. The park, which serves as a serene Pine Ridge getaway, gets that designation for being the first state park in a system that now has 77 diverse properties throughout Nebraska. On June 9, Chadron State Park will celebrate its 97th anniversary, and consequently the 97th anniversary of our state park system.
The park actually got its beginning 99 years ago, in 1919, when Nebraska Sen. J.W. Good of Dawes County convinced the state Legislature to set aside a school section nine miles south of Chadron to be used for park purposes – the first property of its kind in the Cornhusker State. That action happened, but there were no provisions for maintenance nor an agency to care for the 640-acre tract until 1921 when the Legislature created a State Park Board to develop and maintain parkland. So, this year is officially a 97th anniversary.
Through the years, the park has grown to more than 975 acres. Bordered by the Nebraska National Forest, it provides a gateway to northwestern Nebraska’s many public lands opportunities. Many things have changed since the park’s early days, but people still enjoy visiting it for many of the same reason they did decades ago – to soak in the Pine Ridge atmosphere.
Gregg Galbraith has been superintendent of the park since 2014, coming to northwest Nebraska after serving as an assistant at Platte River State Park on the eastern end of the state. He said there is a lot to love about his place of employment.
“This is just a wonderful park,” Galbraith said. “Just the aesthetic value of this park – the beautiful trees, the buttes. Right now it can’t look any better. Everything is green. The trees are full. It’s just a hidden gem.”
He says many of the park’s most popular attractions have been around for decades, and longer. Visitors enjoy staying in both cabins and the campground, which have a reputation for being quiet. Views from atop the buttes, especially by hiking, biking and guided horseback rides, are always popular, as is a hot afternoon at the swimming pool overlooking the pines. The park’s pond provides good fishing and paddleboat rides. Kids of all ages enjoy splashing around in Chadron Creek, the coldwater stream that moves through the park some 400 feet below the park’s upper elevations.
Galbraith said newer features such as the park’s challenging disc golf course increasingly attracts visitors, whether they come to spend the night or drive in from Alliance or Rapid City, South Dakota, for a day’s outing. Also popular are the new archery range, and, in the winter, the designated sledding hill.
Numerous upgrades to Chadron State Park during the past few years — including the pool’s shower house, restrooms throughout the park, and other facilities – have made it more attractive and handicapped-accessible. Galbraith said the park’s location makes it a popular base for those who want to experience other Pine Ridge attractions and the Black Hills of South Dakota.
This week’s anniversary celebration gives Chadron State Park a chance to display its offerings and more. New to the event this year are trail running races of 1-mile, 5k and 10k, a bicycle race, classic car show. Other activities include free paddle boat rides and pellet gun shooting, nature and blacksmithing displays, and a lunch of buffalo sloppy joe or hot dog lunch that costs just 97 cents – one penny more than it did last year.
It’s sure to be a good time. If you cannot make it to this year’s celebration, though, do not fret – the Nebraska State Park System’s “granddaddy of them all” is sure to be around on another day that you can.