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Panhandle Parks Gearing Up for Free Entry Day

Marker at Ash Hollow Historical Park
A guided hike at the storied Ash Hollow Historical Park near Lewellen is among the events planned for Free Park Entry and Fishing Day. (Photo by Justin Haag)

Many of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s attractions in the Panhandle are planning special activities for Free Park Entry and Fishing Day on Saturday, May 17.

Free Park Entry and Fishing Day is an annual event in which the Commission allows fishing and entry to parks without requiring permits. It 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 at the region’s State Parks, State Recreation Areas and State Historical Parks.

Ash Hollow State Historical Park near Lewellen – Take steps back in time to the park’s unique past. Jeff Uhrich, superintendent of the 1,001-acre park, will guide a three-mile hike and explain Ash Hollow’s rich history of pioneer travel and Native American culture. The hike begins at 9 a.m. at the park’s visitors’ center. Both the center and the park’s popular cave will be open throughout the day.

Bridgeport State Recreation Area near Bridgeport – Kids who want to fish need only to show up. The Game and Parks Commission’s Jerry Tallmon Memorial Fishing Activity Trailer will be at Bridgeport SRA from 9 a.m. to noon to provide loaner fishing equipment, bait and instruction.

Chadron State Park near Chadron – A new tournament is teeing up. The park is hosting the inaugural Pine Ridge Throwers Cup, a disc golf tournament featuring the new course that was installed in 2013. Registration starts at noon the lagoon shelter with first throw set for 1 p.m. Golfers will be categorized into divisions for all skill levels and will compete in two nine-hole rounds. Discs, shirts and vouchers to local businesses are among the prizes for the top golfers. Various flag prizes also will be awarded. In addition, a park naturalist will demonstrate the atlatl, a device used for throwing spears, at 9 a.m. and children’s activities will begin at 10 a.m. The Trading Post will be open from 9 a.m. to noon and park visitors may join a trail ride with the park’s horses between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. for $16.

Fort Robinson State Park near Crawford – Free rides and a fishing derby will highlight the day. 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. Participating children who are Nebraska residents may enter to win a half-price lifetime hunting and fishing permit. Fort Robinson also will have free jeep rides and hayrack tours. Its museums will be open and a barbecue lunch for $6 will be offered west of the lodge from noon to 1:30 p.m.

Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area near Gering – From turkey calling to geology tours, the Wildcat Hills Nature Center plans a variety of activities. The National Wild Turkey Federation and the Platte River Basin Environments are inviting children to participate in a turkey calling contest at 10 a.m. Turkey calls will be given to each of the participants. Also beginning at 10 a.m., visitors may shoot air rifles at a mobile target range supervised by park superintendent Russ McKeehan. A pair of hiking opportunities will be offered in the afternoon. The public is invited meet wildlife biologist Chris Becker at the center at 1 p.m. and caravan to nearby Cedar Canyon Wildlife Management Area to view bighorn sheep. The final activity will be the “Rocks and Bones” tour of the park’s geology and paleontology by Dave and Pam Fisher of Melbeta at 1:30 p.m. Following the tour, if enough participants are interested, the Fishers will lead a caravan to interesting sites of geology and archeology near their home. There is no charge for any of the events, but suitable attire, such as jeans and hiking shoes, are strongly recommended for the afternoon tours.

Other attractions in the Game and Parks’ northwest district that will be open that day with no permit requirement include Box Butte Reservoir SRA, Bowring Ranch SHP, Cottonwood Lake SRA, Merritt Reservoir SRA, Lake Minatare SRA, Smith Falls SP and Walgren Lake SRA.

Both daily and annual permits for the remainder of the year may be purchased online at outdoornebraska.org or from vendor sites across 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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