Commission proposes changes to Lake McConaughy camping
LINCOLN, Neb. – A public informational open house will be held Thursday, Jan. 16 at the Lake McConaughy Visitor Center and Water Interpretive Center regarding proposed changes to visitor management at Lake McConaughy and Lake Ogallala. The open house is scheduled for 3-6 p.m. Mountain Time.
Caring for natural resources and providing exceptional opportunities for safe and fun recreation are top priorities for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Lake McConaughy and Lake Ogallala state recreation areas (SRAs) hosted an unprecedented number of visitors in 2018 and 2019, which stretched park infrastructure and resources, as well as local public safety and first responders. Record visitation has negatively affected the agency staff’s ability to provide quality guest services and has strained basic sanitation services, shower facilities, campgrounds and parking areas, resulting in undesirable conditions for guests.
In response, the Commission is partnering with Keith County Commissioners, local public safety officials and the public to lower visitation and create higher-quality experiences for visitors to these areas. To create a better, safer, family-friendly destination, the Commission is recommending measures to increase law enforcement, reduce overcrowding and help guarantee the safety of park guests and first responders. Upon adoption, proposed changes would go into effect before Memorial Day 2020.
Sensitive to growing visitation, public safety issues, excessive demand upon infrastructure and staff, and the need for better protection of natural and cultural resources, the Commission held a series of local public meetings and initiated a 20-year management plan in 2016. The planning process included participation from Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District, local private sector representatives, local homeowner associations, Keith County officials, local tourism and economic development officials and first responders. The management plan, available at OutdoorNebraska.gov/LakeMcConaughyPlan, remains as a living document and prescribes a process for better regulation and recreational use of the reservoir property, and protection of the natural resources. Implementation of the plan began in 2017.
The agency’s goal to provide safe and memorable experiences for visitors, as well as protect the natural resources at these recreation areas, has required the Commission to expedite the timeline to reach these goals outlined in the master plan.
Beginning with the 2020 park season, the Commission is proposing new regulations to reduce day use and overnight camping to manageable levels.
Proposed actions are subject to approval of the Commission and may include:
-- Designating specific camping areas across Lake McConaughy and Lake Ogallala that limit the number of vehicles and occupants entering those areas.
-- Requiring reservations for all overnight camping; no camping sites would be available without a reservation.
-- All available campsites, including all primitive and beach camping, would require reservations.
-- Reservations would be accepted online up to 90 days in advance. They would be taken on a first-come, first-served basis and would expect to become available in March.
-- The Commission would enforce a 14-day occupancy limit at all campsites.
-- Specific day-use areas would be available and would not require a reservation. Camping would not be allowed on these areas, occupancy numbers will be limited, and parking allowed only in designated areas.
-- All camping regulations would be strictly enforced and there would be an increase in law enforcement at the areas.
-- The Commission is researching regulation changes to prohibit alcohol possession at the lakes.
-- Seasonal water levels may impact beach availability. Given current projections, the reservoir would be full and the amount of beach would be limited.
If occupancy is full at Lake McConaughy and Lake Ogallala, Nebraska has 75 other state park and recreation areas to choose from with diverse recreational opportunities.
“Game and Parks will continue to work proactively and invest financial resources to upgrade basic services, roads and campgrounds to enhance the overall quality of our visitors’ experiences,” said Jim Swenson, parks administrator. “Our objective is to manage recreation areas that are better, safer, family-friendly destinations.”
Updates to proposed changes will be released from the Commission. For updated information, or to make inquiries or comments, interested individuals can go to OutdoorNebraska.gov/LakeMacChanges.