If you’ve gone this far into 2015 without purchasing your annual park entry permit or fishing license, this weekend will offer you a chance to get motivated.
Saturday is “Free Fishing and Park Entry Day” in Nebraska. You can sample any public lake or park in the state without purchasing the required permits. The day is held each year on the Saturday preceding Memorial Day weekend.
You still need to behave yourself and observe all fishing regulations. Your boat will need a current sticker. And any camping, lodging and similar fees still apply at state parks. Catfish and trout have been stocked at many ponds and lakes to increase the odds of everyone catching a fish.
The state Game and Parks Commission plans a lot of activities in our area, including plenty to do for those who don’t fish. They include:
— Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area – The Wildcat Hills Nature Center on Highway 71 south of Gering will be hosting an array of events for its annual Wildlands Day, highlighted by an 8k fun run, children’s crafts and hikes to observe birds, wildflowers and bighorn sheep. The fun run, which costs $20 per runner and has four age categories for men and women, begins at 8:30 a.m. with registration at 7:30 a.m. Prizes will be awarded for each division and each runner will receive a T-shirt and water bottle. The birding hike begins at 9:30 a.m. A program about butterflies, in addition to activities and crafts for children, will follow at 10 a.m. For the Bighorn Sheep Hike, folks will meet a 11 a.m. in front of the Nature Center to caravan to the location of the sheep. Children must be accompanied by an adult for activities and hikes. The events will wrap up with a wildflower walk at 1 p.m. If you plan to hike, bring plenty of water.
— Fort Robinson State Park near Crawford – Events include a fishing derby, free rides and an open house for the park’s newest lodging facility, the reconstruction of an 1891 Officers Quarters, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Also, 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 can enter to win a half-price lifetime hunting and fishing permit. Fort Robinson also will have free jeep rides and hayrack tours from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a break for lunch. 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.
— Chadron State Park near Chadron – The newly renovated pond will be in the spotlight as park staff will be on hand throughout the day to assist young anglers with loaner equipment, bait and prizes. Also, park visitors are invited on a hike to observe the park’s diverse bird life from 9-10 a.m. beginning near the park’s headquarters. In addition, the park’s Trading Post will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Ash Hollow State Historical Park near Lewellen – Park visitors will get a guided tour of the many species of birds visiting Ash Hollow State Historical Park. Participants will meet at the visitors center at 8 a.m. for a bird watching tour of 2 or 3 miles along the Oregon-California trail through the park.
You can also fish at Lake Minatare, Box Butte Reservoir and other places in the Game and Parks Commission’s northwest district that usually require a fishing license and entry permit. The weather Saturday looks as if it’ll clear up after some overnight rains without the wind kicking up, so it should be a good day. Prepare for the weather, especially if you plan to hike. And again, carry water (and a camera or binoculars.)
If a fun day motivates you to get your permits for the remainder of the year, you can get them online at outdoornebraska.org or from stores that sell them. Visit OutdoorNebraska.org and check the online calendar for more details.
Obviously, I consider the permit fees a great investment. People who pay a little are more likely to be good stewards of our parks and resources, which are some of the best anywhere. Get out and enjoy them.