A highway widening and resurfacing project is underway on Highway 97 around Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area southwest of Valentine. Visitors can expect delays.

The Nebraska Department of Transportation is working on the 5-mile stretch from Merritt Dam Road to Snake River Road. The project will include asphalt resurfacing, pavement widening, culvert work and grading.

While guests still will have access to the SRA through the current entrance, some campground entrances will be moved during the project. Traffic will be maintained by a pilot car.

NDOT requests motorists drive cautiously in and near work zones, buckle up and avoid cellphone use when driving.

Free Fishing and Park Entry Day is May 18

Free Fishing and Park Entry Day in Nebraska is May 18. Enjoy a Saturday of fishing or state park activities without the need to purchase a fishing or park entry permit for the day.

Free Fishing and Park Entry Day, held annually in Nebraska on the Saturday preceding Memorial Day weekend, means anyone can explore outdoor opportunities at any Nebraska state park, state recreation area or state historical park. Anglers must observe all fishing regulations. Camping, lodging and all other user fees still apply at state park areas. Entrance fees for museums at state historical parks and the entrance fee at the Schramm Education Center remain in effect.

Several family-friendly activities are scheduled in state park areas across the state to celebrate Free Fishing and Park Entry Day. Some of them include:

Fort Robinson State Park

A Kids’ Fishing Derby is set for 9-11 a.m. for ages 12 and under at Grable Ponds. A barbecue will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the west lawn of the lodge. The cost is $11. Park guests can also enjoy free horse-drawn historical tours and Jeep rides.

Platte River State Park and Eugene T. Mahoney State Park

A Beginner Fishing Program will be held from 9-noon at Platte River State Park’s Owen Landing and Eugene T. Mahoney State Park’s CenturyLink Lake.

Join the parks’ naturalists and Youth Fishing Instructors at the lake to give fishing a try. Bait a hook, cast a line and catch a fish. All equipment will be provided.

Schramm Park State Recreation Area

Explore the Pollinator Garden at Schramm Park State Recreation Area from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. with Nebraska Master Gardeners and ask them about spring planting and more. Naturalists will have plant-related activities for kids. Meet in the birding area by Schramm Education Center.

Ponca State Park

Ponca will host the Bill Morris Fishing Derby for anglers of all ages at 8 a.m. Prizes will be awarded for the longest bluegill, largemouth bass and rainbow trout in three age groups.

Fremont Lakes State Recreation Area

Lake No. 16 will host the Bob Bruner Memorial Fishing Derby from 9 a.m. to noon. There also will be food, other activities and prizes. Loaner fishing tackle, bait and instruction will be available.

Lake Cunningham

Celebrate family, friends and fun at Fish Fest at the C from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Lake Cunningham in Omaha.

This free event, co-hosted by Nebraska Game and Parks and the City of Omaha, is for anglers of all experience levels. Attendees can enter to win prizes. Food and refreshments will be provided while supplies last.

Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area

The park will have a bird outing at 9 a.m., followed by a Wildflower Walk at 10 a.m. and Critter Corner at 11 a.m.

Ash Hollow State Historical Park

Ash Hollow is hosting a Kids’ Fishing Day in which children aged 16 and younger are invited to fish the park’s pond and keep what they catch. A limited number of loaner fishing poles are available. A hot dog lunch will be served from 1-3 p.m. Pets on leashes are welcome.

Fort Kearny State Recreation Area

Join the fun at Fort Kearny SRA from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., where the Family Fishing Trailer and several certified youth fishing instructors will be on hand. A limited number of fishing poles will be available to borrow, along with free bait.

Visit calendar.outdoornebraska.gov for more information. Get more information on parks at OutdoorNebraska.gov.

Commission approves 2024 big game hunting recommendations

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission approved recommendations for 2024 deer, antelope and elk hunting seasons at its meeting April 25 at Ponca State Park.

Commissioners approved staff recommendations that will help the agency meet management goals for big game populations. Management goals take into consideration population and harvest data, as well as input from hunters, landowners, and the public, with the goal of maintaining long-term opportunities and access for hunters.

Adopted changes to Commission orders pertaining to big game hunting include:

  • removing 219 either-sex and 184 doe/fawn antelope permits,
  • removing 11 bull and 38 antlerless elk permits,
  • reducing available November Firearm permits by 13% and Antlerless Only Season Choice permits by 37%,
  • creating new Private Land Only Pine Ridge and Private Land Only Sandhills deer permits,
  • converting the Statewide Buck and Restricted Statewide Buck deer permits to the Season Choice format, which makes the permit valid for all deer seasons with the legal method of take during each open season,
  • Calamus West, Loup West, Plains, Sandhills and Upper Platte join the units where an individual may have only one unit permit that allows the harvest of a mule deer. Hunters can hold a second mule deer unit permit in a different unit.

The approved 2024 big game season dates are:


Archery – Sept. 1-Dec. 31; November Firearm – Nov. 16-24 (nine consecutive days starting on the Saturday closest to Nov. 13); Muzzleloader – Dec. 1-31; Late Antlerless Only Firearm – Jan. 1-15, 2025; October River Antlerless Firearm – Oct. 1-15


Archery – Aug. 20-Dec. 31; Muzzleloader – Sept. 21-Oct. 5; Firearm – Oct. 12-27; Late doe/fawn – Nov. 1-Jan. 31, 2025


Archery bull – Sept. 1-Oct. 31; Firearm bull – Sept. 21-Oct. 31; Antlerless – Aug. 1-Jan. 31, 2025; Antlerless, Private Land Only – Aug. 1-Sept. 20; Early General Antlerless – Aug. 1-Oct. 31; Late General Antlerless – Nov. 1-Jan. 31, 2025

In other business, commissioners approved the rental fees for the new horse pens at Fort Robinson State Park’s Mare Barn Campground. The fee will be $25 per horse per night for each of the 30 pens, which are 20 by 24 feet and can accommodate up to four horses.

The commissioners heard a report about the Missouri River Outdoor Expo’s 20thanniversary in 2025.

They also heard a summary of spring and summer education and outreach events to be held at state parks and partner locations. Those events, which will introduce people of all ages to outdoor recreation and conservation and grow outdoor skills, include turkey hunting workshops, the Cornhusker Trap Shoot, the Fort Kearny Expo and Outdoor Discovery School Programs, Community Fishing Nights and Bird Month activities in May.

Jeff Schuckman, Game and Parks’ northeast fisheries supervisor, received a 40-year service award.

Get out to Nebraska’s state parks this May

Spring soon will turn to summer. Get outdoors and spend some time in Nebraska’s state parks this May. A variety of events are planned for those for all ages and interests.

Don’t forget to purchase a vehicle park entry permit to enter the state parks. Get one at OutdoorNebraska.gov or at state park entrances.

Saddle up for Enders Trail Ride

Saddle up your horse join the annual Enders Trail Ride on May 4 at Enders Reservoir State Recreation Area.

The two-hour ride, which will begin at Church Grove at 9 a.m., will give riders views of wildlife and beautiful scenery from the beach and through the wooded areas of the SRA.

This free ride is for novice to advanced riders who bring their own horses. Camping is available, with applicable fees, but there are no equestrian pens at the SRA.

Living History Weekend at Fort Atkinson SHP

Travel 200 years back in time and experience history on the Great Plains at Fort Atkinson State Historical Park with Living History Weekend on May 4-5.

From 10 a.m.-5 p.m. both days, ongoing demonstrations featuring military and civilian life of the 1820s will occur throughout the park. Reenactors portray fur traders, coopers, blacksmiths, carpenters, tinsmiths, weavers and other period trades. Visitors are encouraged to interact with the reenactors.

A fee of $4 per adult and $1 per child is required at the Harold W. Andersen Visitor Center.

For more information, contact the park at [email protected], 402-468-5611 or visit OutdoorNebraska.gov and search “Fort Atkinson State Historical Park.”

Fort Kearny Outdoor Expo is May 11

Spend a fun day outside learning a new skill at the Fort Kearny Outdoor Expo on May 11. Fort Kearny State Recreation Area will host the event from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Fort Kearny Outdoor Expo is a full day of free, hands-on outdoor activities for all ages and experience levels. Volunteers and experts will provide instruction so participants can try activities new to them and possibly use newly learned skills to become more active in the outdoors.

Those who attend can try fishing, archery, kayaking, backyard games and outdoor cooking, among other activities. They can also see, touch and learn more about Nebraska fish and wildlife species from wildlife biologists.

For more information, visit the calendar event entry at calendar.outdoornebraska.gov.

Sip Nebraska is May 10-11 at Mahoney SP

Eugene T. Mahoney State Park will host the 11th annual Sip Nebraska Festival on May 10-11.

Explore and enjoy wineries, breweries, and distilleries from across Nebraska, with unlimited tastings of wine, craft beer, hard cider, and spirits. If you find a favorite, you can purchase a glass to savor on-site, or even a bottle or 6-pack to take home and share with friends and family.

Enjoy live music while you sip and shop curated artisan vendors, take a tour through food truck alley, play lawn games, and ride the trolley to enjoy the springtime atmosphere at the park.

For more information on prices and to buy tickets, visit the calendar event entry at calendar.outdoornebraska.gov.

Red Willow SRA Bioblitz is May 25

Take part in an all-day community science project by participating in the Red Willow State Recreation Area Bioblitz on May 25.

Wildlife biologists will show the species they study and answer questions about their careers. This is a great chance for people of all ages to learn about community science and participate in Nebraska’s conservation efforts.

A bioblitz focuses on finding and identifying as many different types of plants and wildlife as possible in a specific area over a specific period. Most bioblitzes have a public component so anyone interested can join experts and scientists in the field. Participating in these interactive events is a fun and exciting way for people to learn about Nebraska nature and better understand how to protect it.

For more information, including the schedule, visit the calendar event entry at calendar.outdoornebraska.gov.

Celebrate Memorial Day Weekend at Platte River SP

Spend Memorial Day Weekend at Platte River State Park with activities May 25-26.

Beginner Fishing will be 9 a.m. to noon. May 25 at Owen Landing.

Pond Critter Ecology will be from 1 to 3 p.m. May 25 at Crawdad Creek and from 9 a.m. to noon May 26 at Owen Landing.

The Nature Center will be open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. both days, with a special beginner birding program at 2 p.m. May 25 and a special reptile program 2 p.m. May 26.