Spring has arrived and with it very pleasant weather. After a year of living under the restrictions of a pandemic, most of us are ready to get out there and explore the great outdoors!
Nebraska’s parks are vibrant and diverse. They can be places of solitude or teeming with activity. Governor Pete Ricketts has proclaimed 2021 the Centennial Year of Nebraska State Parks. It’s a year that will see activity in parks like no other, with events scheduled throughout 2021 across the state.
Chadron State Park became Nebraska’s first state park in 1921. The state park system has expanded to 76 park zones, and for 100 years the parks have been a place of celebration in family, hike, bike, camping, paddle, fishing, picnic or relax.
“Nebraska State Parks provide many opportunities for families to connect with nature, spend time together outdoors, and create lasting memories,” said Jim Swenson, Parks Administrator. “State parks and recreation areas are so important to our quality of life in Nebraska. It is a great privilege to manage them for our clients and to maintain the resources for years to come.
Whether you’re looking for a day or weekend adventure, Nebraska has plenty of outdoor opportunities to suit your needs. The park system includes eight state parks, 58 state recreation areas, and 10 state historic parks. No two parks are alike.
Hundreds of events are planned in Nebraska State Parks to celebrate the centennial this year, including three flagship events: at Chadron State Park on June 11-12, Victoria Springs SRA on July 10, and Arbor Lodge SHP on October 2. To see other centennial events, visit YourNebraskaParks100.org.
If you’re looking for something a little closer to home – like a family picnic and a fishing trip or overnight camping – Gothenburg has you covered. We have lots of beautiful outdoor spaces and history here in our own backyard!
Gothenburg has four parks covering a total of 55 acres and includes activities such as playground equipment, swimming pool, picnic areas, frisbee golf course, ball fields and camping areas. Located at the northern edge of Gothenburg along Highway 47, Lafayette Park and Campground provide plenty of shade for relaxing, picnicking, and camping. Right across the park bridge is beautiful Lake Helen, with walking trails, picnic areas, Frisbee golf and of course, the lake – stocked with fish every year.
Ehmen Park is located in the heart of the city along Lake Avenue. Designated arboretum in 2014, the park is home to more than 110 trees of 62 different species and varieties. The historic Pony Express train station and museum are also located in Ehmen Park.
Located atop the hill on Lake Avenue and 20th Street is the city’s oldest park, named after one of its early settlers, EG West. This park also offers play equipment and a tennis court.
People aren’t the only ones who find fun in our local parks. With all the trees in Gothenburg, the community is home to just about all kinds of birds. In fact, there is an interesting story behind such a bird and our local lake, as guest columnist Mark Peyton shared:
Canada Geese in Gothenburg
Last week I drove near Lake Helen and noticed that there was not a single goose on the lake. I guess the de-gooseification of the lake was a success. But not wanting geese by the lake hasn’t always been the attitude here in Gothenburg.
By 1934, ducks and geese were in serious decline. The number had been reduced from about 150 million to less than 30 million. If hunters wanted to continue to play the sport of waterfowl hunting, something had to be done.
Here in Gothenburg, the Gothenburg Gun Club has built the Gothenburg Bird Sanctuary. At one point, over 3,000 acres of land, located where the I-80 interchange now stands, was set aside as a bird sanctuary. Ducks and geese as well as swans and a whooping crane were kept there. The Gun Club also took over the management of the hunt at Lake Helen.
With the development of Duck Stamps, Ducks Unlimited, stricter hunting laws through the Migratory Bird Treaty Act as well as national and private refuge programs, duck and goose populations began to make a comeback. The Gothenburg Refuge won 2nd place in a national shelter competition in 1934 and you can see the Silver Cup and read about it at the Gothenburg Museum.
Then in the 1980s a group of men here in Gothenburg, calling themselves the Carp and Crow Club (and you know who you are), began to encourage the breeding of geese at Lake Helen. Others set up feeders and released domestic ducks into the lake or bought young geese, temporarily cut off their wings and allowed them to mature for a year, then fly away in the hope that they would return. and would recur. They did it. They also attracted thousands of migrating ducks and geese to the lake and the problems started which eventually led to the disgoosification I mentioned earlier.
There are five “species” of geese in Nebraska, but the Canada geese are the only ones that breed in Nebraska and they do so now. Females sit on up to eight eggs and she does all the incubation. The male stays close to the nest to protect it. The young yolks will soon hatch and they are immediately active and ready to go. They can walk, swim, eat and dive underwater. Around July 4, they will start flying. Young birds stay with mom and dad throughout the year and mom and dad stay together for life. However, if one dies, the other will take on a new partner.
Geese are herbivores that eat grass and grain waste. They are drawn to well-maintained yards and parks, and they love a beautiful golf course. This has led them to be pests in many communities. Not only do they eat the grass, they use the bathroom… a lot! What was the problem at the lake.
Overall, the restoration of the goose population has been a conservation success, despite the problems geese cause in the parks. Canada geese are now between four and five million here in the United States with 15,000 breeding pairs in Nebraska. They are pretty much everywhere except Lake Helen, and I miss them.