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Guests at central Nebraska state parks will enjoy many improvements

Plenty of improvements in Nebraska’s state parks await visitors in central Nebraska this year. Projects completed in 2022 or to be finished in 2023 will appeal to an array of park users. The following is a roundup of those improvements and projects:

Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area

At Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area near Valentine, multiple campgrounds saw improvements.

Cedar Bay Campground electrical was upgraded at a cost of $155,973 and the shower house for $19,750. The existing dump station there will be relocated in 2023.

At Willow Cove and Cottonwood campgrounds, two outdated vault toilets were replaced with concrete restrooms compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act; total cost was $70,000.

A campground design to connect Beeds and Cedar Bay campgrounds also was completed at a cost of $60,600.

In 2022, a breakwater on the reservoir was improved at a cost of $669,553, and two fish grinders were upgraded to state-of-the-art Barracuda fish cleaning stations at a cost of $85,930. The replacement was needed to keep up with high use of this area as a fishing hotspot.

Sherman Reservoir State Recreation Area

The demand for modern camping facilities in central Nebraska is high. Because of that, a new, 62-site electrical campground combining Thunder Bay and West Ridge campgrounds is under construction at Sherman Reservoir State Recreation Area near Loup City.

The $1.1 million project, which will be completed later this year, will include a new connecting road and ADA-compliant sites.

Two outdated vault toilets were replaced in 2022 with concrete ADA-compliant ones at Thunder Bay boat ramp and Fisherman’s Bridge Area at a cost of $70,000.

Smith Falls State Park

At Smith Falls State Park near Valentine, a new boardwalk leading to the state’s tallest waterfall is under construction.

This $2.7 million project has closed access to the falls until after May 2023, so the old boardwalk can be replaced with durable composite decking on a steel frame. The new boardwalk will be ADA-compliant and accommodate future ADA-upgrades within the park.

Once completed, interpretive signage showcasing the park’s special ecosystem will be added.

A design for a 50-site electrical campground on 40 acres of this park also was completed. The campground will complement the park’s two non-electric campgrounds.

Calamus State Recreation Area

Anglers at Calamus State Recreation Area near Burwell will benefit from the two Barracuda fish grinders. The state-of-the-art fish cleaning stations cost of $85,930.

A concrete vault toilet also was installed at Buckshot Bay for $26,953 to replace a modern restroom. It was installed to save on costs to move the septic system and old restroom to a new location.

New electronic gate operators were installed on two gates for Bureau of Reclamation and irrigation access to the canal at the Calamus Fish Hatchery. The cost of the project was $14,390. Game and Parks is responsible to maintain the gates, operators and access.

Keller Park State Recreation Area

When the campground reopens at Keller Park State Recreation Area near Ainsworth this June, campers will find all 25 campsites have been upgraded to 50-amp electrical service in a $325,000 project. In addition, two vault toilets were replaced by ADA-compliant concrete restrooms at a cost of $50,964.

Victoria Springs State Recreation Area

A $289,852 project at Victoria Springs State Recreation Area saw two cabins upgraded to meet ADA compliance and make them more functional for park guests. Two concrete vault toilets also were replaced with ADA-compliant ones at a cost of $63,000.

Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail

The Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail 2019 flood recovery efforts continue. An erosion control structure protecting the trail along the Elkhorn River near Norfolk and a large culvert near Valentine are being renovated to ensure proper drainage and protect the trail. These projects will help sustain trail through traffic and restore segments lost during the flood. Detours on local roads are being used for trail closures located near Oakdale, Neligh, Clearwater and Long Pine. Details can be found on the Cowboy Trail website. Select sections of trail surfacing affected by flooding also are being replaced, which will restore these affected sections with a firm, smooth, trail surface.

The Cowboy Trail projects are in various states of design and permitting but are estimated to be completed in 2024 and 2025. The projects are estimated to total $3.5 million.

These state park system projects largely have been funded by Capital Maintenance Funds, which were established by the Nebraska Legislature in 2016 to help preserve Nebraska’s public outdoor recreation facilities and parklands; state and federal funding sources; and Nebraska Game and Parks’ funds generated from user fees of the state park system.

About Jerry Kane

Jerry Kane is the news manager with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. He can be contacted at or 402-471-5008.

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