What you need to know about camping in Nebraska

What you need to know about camping in Nebraska

  • Updated

More good news, bad news for campers: The state is reopening more than 1,000 RV and tent sites on a first-come, first-served basis, just in time for the Memorial Day weekend.

The move takes effect Friday and covers Smith Falls State Park and 35 state recreation areas and wildlife management areas, including Bluestem, Conestoga, Stagecoach and Wagon Train near Lincoln.

But don’t start packing for your favorite lake yet. The announcement doesn’t apply to two dozen of the state Game and Parks Commission’s most popular sites — like Branched Oak, McConaughy and Mahoney — which will continue to be restricted to RVs by reservation only.

The state closed all of its 11,000 primitive and improved campsites in early April to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Earlier this month, it announced it would reopen limited RV camping in select sites starting Thursday.

It made its latest move after hearing an overwhelming demand for camping — even in areas where shower houses, swimming areas, playgrounds and other park amenities will remain closed, and only a limited number of primitive bathrooms will be open.

“Over the past several weeks, the public have contacted us by phone, email, and social media to request more camping opportunities and express a desire for tent camping availability,” Game and Parks spokeswoman Christy Firestone said in an email.

That confirms the value the public places on parks, she said. But she also said campers need to take personal responsibility by following health and safety recommendations.

The commission is allowing first-come, first-served camping — with up to eight people per site — in the additional areas because of challenges adding them to the state’s online reservation system, it said in a news release.

But it won’t be a normal Memorial Day weekend. Park offices will remain closed to the public. The state’s lodges and cabins will remain closed until May 31, though that could be extended.

And the commission closed swimming areas last month after officers broke up beach parties that had attracted more than 100 people, violating the 10-person limit and not practicing social distancing. Those remain off-limits indefinitely.

First-come, first-served camping (including tents):

Alexandria, Bluestem, Box Butte, Bridgeport, Buffalo Bill, Cheyenne, Conestoga, Cottonwood Lake, Dead Timber, Enders, Gallagher Canyon, Keller Park, Lake Maloney, Long Pine, Memphis, North Loup, Olive Creek, Pelican Point, Red Willow, Riverview Marina, Rock Creek Lake, Rockford, Sandy Channel, Sherman, Smith Falls, Stagecoach, Summit, Sutherland, Swanson, Union Pacific, Verdon, Wagon Train, Walgren Lake, War Axe and Wildcat Hills.

Reservations and RVs still required:

Branched Oak, Calamus, Chadron, Eugene T. Mahoney, Fort Kearney, Fort Robinson, Fremont, Indian Cave, Johnson Lake, Lake McConaughy, Lake Minatare, Lake Ogallala, Lewis and Clark, Louisville, Medicine Creek Reservoir, Merritt Reservoir, Niobrara, Pawnee, Platte River, Ponca, Rock Creek Station, Two Rivers, Victoria Springs, Willow Creek and Windmill

Other restrictions at these sites:

* Designated sites will be spaced at least 25 feet apart.

* Each campsite will be limited to eight guests, and stays limited to seven days.

* Only self-contained RVs with factory features that hold potable water, contain wastewater and connect to electrical service will be allowed.

* No park showers or modern restrooms will be open. Vault toilets and RV dump stations will be open.

* To make reservations, go to: OutdoorNebraska.gov/reservations

Still closed to all camping:

Mormon Island near Grand Island and Danish Alps near Hubbard; both are close to COVID-19 hotspots.

* For more information, go to: outdoornebraska.gov/healthinfo/.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter

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