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Panhandle Parks Getting Ready for Free Park Entry Day

Fort Robinson State Park Jeep Ride
Fort Robinson State Park is offering free jeep rides during Free Park Entry Day on Saturday. (NEBRASKAland/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 21.

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 – A full day of activities are planned at the park. In celebration of International Migratory Bird Month, birdwatchers are invited to meet at the picnic area at 8 a.m. to enjoy a hike along the Oregon-California Trail. Binoculars and bird guides will be made available for the hikers. At lunchtime, the Friends of Ash Hollow are sponsoring free grilled hamburgers and hot dogs. At 1 p.m., fishing equipment will be made available for children who want to fish the spring pond for trout. Hayrack rides along the park’s many trails will entertain guests from 1:30-5 p.m. In addition, the park’s visitors center will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Chadron State Park near Chadron – Visitors are being encouraged to enjoy both free fishing and free park entry in one place. Fishing equipment will be available and park employees will be at the pond from 9 a.m. to noon to help children land a trout. Many of the park’s activities that won’t open until May 28 also will be available for the day. The park’s activities center, the Trading Post, will be open. Also, horseback rides and paddleboat rentals will be available at regular cost.

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 horse drawn tours beginning at 9 a.m. Its museums will be open and a barbecue lunch for $7 will be offered west of the lodge from noon to 1:30 p.m.

Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area near Gering – A morning of birds, wildflowers and crafting await those who visit Wildcat Hills. In recognition of International Migratory Bird Month, the park is sponsoring a birding hike at 9 a.m. At 10 a.m., the focus will turn from fauna to flora with a wildflower walk. In addition, children are invited to participate in a crafting session from 10 a.m. to noon. Participants for all events will meet at the park’s big shelter.

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, Bridgeport SRA, Cottonwood Lake SRA, Merritt Reservoir SRA, Lake Minatare SRA, Smith Falls SP and Walgren Lake SRA.

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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