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Project Improving Trout Stream in Flood-damaged Park

Coffee Park
Coffee Park in Sowbelly Canyon near Harrison. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)

The effects of torrential spring flooding has dampened activity at Harrison’s Coffee Park for months, but thanks to a cooperative effort between local, state and federal officials there’s been a lot of movement at the remote attraction in Sioux County in recent days. Before long, trout anglers will be among those bringing the action.

Major clean-up efforts at the park, located along Sowbelly Creek in the heart of the Pine Ridge in Sioux County, began last week when Fuller Construction arrived with heavy equipment. The workers have been using a track-hoe excavator and six-wheeled dump truck, among other equipment, to remove a massive logjam along the creek — one byproduct of a storm that brought 4-6 inches of rain to the already saturated area one night in June.

The downpour flooded the narrow canyon and carried logs downstream to the park where a fallen cottonwood tree at a bend in the creek is suspected to have triggered the logjam. The backed-up trees and logs, estimated to total between 2,000 and 4,000 cubic yards of wood, are now being moved into piles to be burned this winter.

The park, situated in a canyon that links the table lands along U.S. Highway 20 to the grasslands north of the Pine Ridge, is owned by the village of Harrison despite being several miles away from town. It has been closed since the flood, with its footbridge washed out and debris scattered throughout its playground, picnic areas and the half-mile of creek.

Matt Steffl, a Nebraska Game and Parks Commission wildlife manager in the northwest district who helped spearhead the clean-up effort, said the creek will become even more accessible to trout fishermen than it was before the flood, with the removal of obstructions along the bank. And, from a fisheries standpoint, Steffl said the flood actually helped the stream’s health, exposing rock by washing silt and soot from its bottom and deepening pools.

“We don’t have a lot of miles of public cold-water trout streams in Nebraska, so we like to do what we can to take care of what we have,” Steffl said. “When the work is done here, we expect it to be even more of an attraction. When that flood went through, it washed out a lot of the ash from the ’06 wildfires and also cut some holes here and there. In most places, it made a lot better cold-water stream than what we had before.”

The bulk of the project, 75 percent, is being paid for with money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with the remainder funded by Nebraska Emergency Management, the village of Harrison and the Game and Parks Commission.

The park is expected to be open and ready for visitors sometime in the spring.

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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