Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A week in Lincoln County

I make no secret of the fact that I believe I have the best job in the world. What could be better than helping people have fun? And having a lot of fun yourself in the process!

This past week, though grueling, is a perfect example of that. I accompanied filmmaker Cristian Bohuslavschi, producer of the Crosswest Adventures television series that airs on Altitude TV. We are promoting all of the adventures available in Lincoln County with an episode of Crosswest Adventures for the North Platte / Lincoln County Visitors Bureau, my employer.

Tourism is the third-largest industry in Nebraska, behind Agriculture and Manufacturing. In Lincoln County, it is still third, but behind Agriculture and Transportation. It is a hugely important component of our economy, and by attracting more visitors, encouraging more locals to partake of our offerings, and working steadily to invest in improvements to the "product", we will increase the fun we all can have.

Our week began Monday afternoon with a trek down Cottonwood Canyon to the Wapiti Wildlife Management Area. This scenic WMA covers nearly 2,000 acres and is open to the public year-round. It is perfect for just sitting and contemplating Nebraska's beauty, hiking, birdwatching, mountain biking or horseback riding. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission would like to ask that no trails be created, though, to preserve the sensitive land. Of course, it is also popular during the appropriate seasons for hunting. You'll find deer, elk, turkey and doves, especially.

Horseback riding at Wapiti Wildlife Management Area
For a list of rules to follow when enjoying Nebraska's public lands managed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, click this LINK.

Tuesday morning started off bright and early with filming of the Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park - the house, barn, log cabin, grounds and the buffalo "herd" (do three buffalo make a herd?). The afternoon was spent exploring the Buffalo Bill Ranch State Recreation Area. Dusty Trails offers horseback riding through the 200+ acres, though the trees and along the North Platte River. He is also your river outfitter, providing tanks, canoes, kayaks and tube rentals, plus put-in and take-out services. Follow the link to the Dusty Trails website to find the current hours and contact information.
Tubing and Tanking along the North Platte River

Horseback riding through the trees at the Buffalo Bill State Recreation Area. Notice the campground in the background.
Wednesday brought intermittent showers, including a record-breaking rainfall total for the date in North Platte. Not particularly conducive for filming. However, we did manage to get A LOT done! 

After some interviews in the office, we started off filming at the Lincoln County Wildlife Gun Club south of North Platte at Lake Maloney. This state-of-the-art trap and skeet shooting range is open for regular hours all year long. 
Filming the shooters

Lincoln County Wildlife Gun Club is a very well-appointed shooting range

Then it was a trek down Highway 83 to Wellfleet Lake, a beautiful lake owned by the Village of Wellfleet, with the fishery managed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. This means that camping is free, with no need for a park permit, but you do need a fishing license. 

The two negatives I would mention are that there isn't enough manpower available in Wellfleet to keep up with the maintenance of the area. There is lots of trash. Secondly, Wellfleet Lake is being hugely impacted by the poorly thought out Lincoln Farms project where Nebraska's groundwater is being pumped into the Republican River watershed to meet our surface water commitments to Kansas. The first stream to receive the water is Medicine Creek, which feeds Wellfleet Lake. There is actually a pretty substantial current IN THE LAKE, which is detrimental to the fishery that has been developed over the years.
The beautiful Wellfleet Lake from the dam.

Filming our guide, Julie Geiser of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Filming fishermen along the dam.
After Wellfleet Lake, we made a short drive down Opal Springs Road to the Cedar Valley Wildlife Management Area, to showcase the hunting opportunities. This picturesque area is also open to the public year-round for activities such as primitive camping, hiking, horseback riding, and birdwatching. The primary purpose is hunting, so be watchful of hunters during seasons.
Cedar Valley Wildlife Management Area
Thursday morning we headed to Brady to film Mountain Bike riders at Potter's Pasture. If you have never been to Potter's Pasture, you are in for a treat! It is privately owned, but open to the public for Mountain Biking and hiking.
Beautiful scenery is the backdrop for some incredible Mountain Biking at Potter's Pasture.

Filming the intrepid Mountain Bikers (Cut... do it again...) at Potter's Pasture.
For more water fun, we headed west to Hershey and the Hershey Wildlife Management Area for scuba diving. The Interstate Lakes are fed from the Ogallala Aquifer, and generally offer clear water for diving year-round. The fisheries are managed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, so you'll need a permit to fish, but the diving is free. You'll also need a valid Park Permit to enter the area. The favorites of the divers that we spoke with are the Hershey WMA and the East Sutherland WMA, known locally as Koch's Pond.
Divers, young and old, getting ready to take to the water.
We finished up the day at Lake Maloney and got some good footage of a family tubing, but the wind had come up and the chop was pretty significant, so we called it a day.

The fun wasn't over yet. Friday morning found us (including my husband and our very good friends, as well as my office colleague) at Tobey's Check, along the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District Supply Canal for an early-morning Kayak trip.

Did you know that the Supply Canal (or Tri-County Canal as it is officially called) is completely open to the public for any legal activity from the diversion dam on the North Platte River all the way through Johnson Lake south of Lexington in Dawson County? That's more than 75 miles of fun! This means powered boats (though it is wake-less), kayaking, tubing, tanking, canoeing, camping, hiking... anything you can legally do in and around waterways in Nebraska is legal along the CNPPID canal. PLEASE, be safe, stay away from their dams and hydro facilities, and wear life jackets! And don't confuse this with Nebraska Public Power District, as they don't adhere to the same philosophy!
Nearing the end of the short Tobey's Check to Cottonwood Canyon run.
Putting in at Tobey's Check. Be mindful of the whirlpools!
Saturday we spent the day at the Sutherland Reservoir. There is so much to do here, we weren't able to get it all on film. Starting off we filmed a number of waterfowl, including gulls, pelicans and Blue Herons on the lake and in the cooling pond. A number of fishermen were fishing at the "bubble", and though there was a mild wind blowing creating a little chop, the bay at Hershey Beach was perfect and we filmed jet skis, tubing, skiing and wakeboarding.

The Oregon Trail Golf Course was, as always, beautiful, and quiet during the Nebraska football game. The campground was full of folks enjoying their Labor Day weekend.

Over at the Flatrock Riders OHV Park things were a little louder, but still fun. The facility features three separate courses, suitable for riders of different abilities and offering variety for those honing their skills. One of the courses is more than a mile long. All Off Highway Vehicles are welcome, including four-wheelers and side-by-sides as well as dirt bikes, but no highway vehicles are allowed.

Below: Young and old alike enjoy the action at the Flatrock Riders OHV park.

The next time someone mentions there isn't anything to do locally, challenge them to get out and explore some of the great public facilities in Lincoln County.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Know Nebraska: Ponca State Park

And now, for the biggest disappointment of our entire trip, Ponca State Park. I have visited Ponca before - at least the Missouri National Recreational River Resource and Education Center, which is at the park's headquarters. I was looking forward to being back in the area and exploring everything the park had to offer.

Unfortunately, when we arrived, just as at Willow Creek SRA, we found the information hut abandoned, with no map or brochure to show us where to go. We made our first big mistake in not heading to the headquarters building right away, but we had no idea what was waiting for us.
The first informational sign we encountered
A short way down from the entrance to the park, we found this sign. Not being familiar with the sign, we had no idea what the names of the campgrounds were, but this sign seemed to indicate that everything was to the left, and the road ahead must simply be some kind of service road. WRONG!

The road to the left took us on a steep and winding road that, when we reached the other end, had a sign indicating that RVs weren't allowed on it due to its steepness! Possibly a sign at the entrance would have been in order. Or at the least, a brochure rack with a map of the park. You can go HERE to find one we could have downloaded at home and taken with us.

After we found our campground, we were informed that we had to go all the way back to the administration building to register for the site as it was in the reserved section. This is when we found the alternate way to the camping area. It is 3.4 miles from the campground to the administration building and the areas of the park where all the "fun" things happen. It's all very steep and there are no connecting trails. There are trails, but they just loop around the various areas, not really offering an option of getting from one place to another.

The campground is also 1.2 miles from the nearest access to the Missouri River. This view was taken from the Riverside camping area, which was closed due to repairs made necessary by the recent floods. Even if it had been open, it offers only primitive camping.
 The camping areas were nice, though remote. The sites are beautifully shaded, not too crowded, and there is a playground and modern shower building.

 I'm not saying you should avoid Ponca State Park by any means, just be prepared when you come. A tow vehicle is a must, or at the least, you should be prepared to break camp and drive your RV back to the entrance, where all of the fun is.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Know Nebraska: Willow Creek State Recreation Area and Pierce Nebraska

After leaving Victoria Springs, we detoured through Ord, and made time for a visit with Caleb Pollard at Scratchtown Brewing Company - and bought a Growler to take with us!

Our next stop was our favorite campground on our whole trip. Willow Creek State Recreation Area near Pierce, Nebraska. It was a little off-putting at the very beginning, though. We arrived to find that the information hut at the entrance was closed, and no map of the campground available, or even posted on the signs. We drove through several camping areas before coming upon the campground host, who was very helpful. However, when we asked for a map, she told us "We don't have any - you have to download them before you come." Hmmm... great prior planning on the part of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. You can click HERE for a copy of what we should have downloaded!
One of our favorite aspects of Willow Creek - 8 miles of improved hiking/biking trails!
Creating such a wonderful area as Willow Creek takes a lot of partnerships!
The campground is divided into three main areas, that include 100 camping pads, 64 with 30 amp electrical hookups, 19 with 50 amp electrical hookups. Amenities include "Picnic tables and shelters, fire grates, water, showers, modern restrooms, accessible fishing pier, archery field course, unsupervised swimming, two playgrounds and an 8-mile hiking/horseback trail around the lake. Seven rock jetties provide some fine fishing access."

One of the jetties that provide fishing access.
Pierce, Nebraska is a wonderful little community, and very worth using Willow Creek as your hub to spend some time exploring the area. Nearby is Cuthills Vineyards, and it's an easy drive to other attractions in the area such as the Neligh Mill and Ashfall Fossil Beds, among many others.

Unfortunately, the lake had tested positive for algae contamination, so was off-limits for us and Murphy. We hadn't really been counting on a swim, but I did feel sorry for the many kids who were having a last blast of summer camping trip.
All in all, we loved our time at Willow Creek. There are a lot of other campgrounds and public lands to explore in Nebraska, but we hope our travels take us back there some day soon. This area is a wonderful example of what is possible when people get together - including the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission - and really expand upon an area's assets.