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Victoria Springs State Recreation Area

An Oasis at the Edge of the Sandhills

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The sun rises over the spring-fed pond that is the centerpiece of Victoria Springs State Recreation Area.

Story and Photos by Eric Fowler

Victoria Springs State Recreation opened in August 1925, an estimated 4,500 people attended the celebration. These days, around 6,000 people visit in an entire year. It’s a quiet little park, which is exactly why those who visit do so.

Some folks will say the 60-acre park is in the middle of nowhere. But that isn’t true. It’s only 6 miles off the beaten path of Nebraska Highway 2 if you head west from Anselmo.
Others have called it “an oasis in the Sandhills,” but that’s not entirely true, either. The park sits in a narrow valley alongside Victoria Creek at the southeastern edge of the Sandhills, which you will soon find if you drive north or west. To the south and east are the rugged central loess hills.

Aerial view of Victoria Springs SRA
An aerial view of Victoria Springs. The boundary to the SRA is a rectangle. The road in the foreground travels east (left side) to west.
But the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s second-oldest park is indeed an oasis. Here you can fish or take a paddleboat ride around the picturesque 5-acre spring-fed pond, have lunch in the picnic area shaded by towering cottonwoods, take a walk through a prairie, and spend a night in the campground or one of two rustic cabins, which just received a facelift.

Two people paddleboat at Victoria Springs SRA
Chris and Teresa Schaffert of Aurora and their grandchildren, Aden and Nora Rousch, ride paddleboats around the pond at Victoria Springs.

The area has a rich history. Charles Mathews, one of the first settlers in Custer County, staked his claim along Victoria Creek in 1874. He built two cabins there, one his home and the other the county’s first post office. That was the beginning of the town of New Helena, where Mathews’ home would later become the first general store. Those cabins stand today, as does the District No. 2 schoolhouse, completed in 1889 and used until 1964.

Log cabin at Victoria Springs SRA
Two log cabins built by Judge R. Charles Mathews in 1874, one his home and the other the first post office in Custer County, are now part of Victoria Springs SRA.

Mathews and his partners also founded the Victoria Springs Mineral Co., bottling and selling the mineral water nationwide for its therapeutic value. The latter wasn’t entirely true, either, as science would explain, and the area never became the health resort some envisioned.

But there is indeed therapeutic value in Victoria Springs SRA. For some, peace, quiet and solitude are indeed the elixir of life.   

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