WAHOO – The New Year ushers in some changes for a recreation area just north of Wahoo.
The Lower Platte North Natural Resources District is taking over the management of recreation operations and vehicles entering the east or west side facilities will need a valid NRD Wanahoo Park Permit.
The NRD Board of Directors voted earlier this year to end the management/operations agreement with Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Game and Parks has operated the recreation area since it opened in 2012.
NRD General Manager Eric Gottschalk said the district is hopeful for a smooth transition and is excited about some improvements already in the works.
One of those projects can be seen taking shape on the east side of the lake in the Day Use Area.
Construction has started on a 40 by 60 feet outdoor education building.
Gottschalk said the building will be enclosed but will have two glass, garage door openings on the west side so to offer a great view of the lake. There will also be a 15 by 60 foot patio on the west side of the building.
The NRD is acting as the general contractor for the project and Robert Hedges Construction is currently doing the erection of the steel. Gottschalk said the goal is to have the building done by this spring.
“Our hope is to have it done in April, unless we get delayed by weather,” he said.
The price tag for the building is about $230,000.
A large chunk of that money project is coming from the same fund that offered dollars for other construction at Lake Wanahoo. The NRD is making use of money from a cost sharing pot formerly known as the Water Resource Development Fund. Those state dollars will pay for 60 percent of the total cost.
“We are now in the process of finding donations for the local 40 percent (match),” he said.
A $30,000 grant has already been secured from the Wahoo Community Foundation and other private donors are being sought. Businesses and other area groups are being contacted.
Gottschalk said the effort is to not use tax dollars for the buildings.
The outdoor education building will have multiple uses. Most of the building will be open space to accommodate a classroom or meeting set up.
The district is trying to expand its outreach and could offer various programs at the education building to schools or other organizations.
There are also plans to rent out the building. Gottschalk said there will be a small kitchen and the building can be rented for meetings, private social events or community activities.
“We hope it can be a great gathering place on that east side,” he said.
He added there are also plans to enlarge pictures of the old Wanahoo Park east of Wahoo and hang those in the building. The lake area gets its name from that former facility that operated until the 1950s.
Another new attraction opening at the lake this year will be primitive campsites on a small island on the northern side of the lake. Five campsites have been cleared on Pork Chop Island.
Only accessible by boat or canoe and with no electricity, campers will have to be sure they have all gear and supplies before they leave the shore.
“It’s pack, pack out and leave as little footprint as possible,” Gottschalk said.
The campsites have been developed in a way that they are not connected to one another. There is also a disconnect to the world beyond.
“You feel like you are in the middle of nowhere and you are just a mile from town,” Gottschalk added.
Pork Chop Island’s campsites are expected to be a unique experience.
“We’ve done research around the Midwest and we can’t find anything that is like this,” he said.
Development of the campsites is coming at a cost of about $35,000, with 60 percent of the funding again coming from the state matching grant program.
Although the weather has not been conducive recently for ice fishing, Gottschalk said he expected that activity at the lake again this winter.
NRD Park Permits will be needed for fishermen or anyone driving into the recreation area after Jan. 1. Permits are $15 for anyone living or owning property within the district. Non-district park fees are $25. There are also $5 daily permit fees available.
Permits can be purchased at the NRD office in Wahoo.
Rentals of the campsites on the west side of the lake will also now be done by the NRD. But, Gottschalk said the rates remain the same as those charged by the Game and Parks Commission.
The policy of having half of the campsites offered through reservations and half available on a first-come, first-serve basis will also continue. Reservations can be made at www.lpnnrd.org or by calling the NRD office at 402-443-4675.
The NRD permit will only be required at Lake Wanahoo. The district also operates Czechland Lake near Prague and Homestead Lake near Bruno.
“Those are free entry now and will continue to be free,” Gottschalk said.
However, Lake Wanahoo is not alone in that it requires a special permit. The Nemaha Natural Resources District operates three recreation areas and requires its own permits.
Gottschalk said staff has worked with Nemaha NRD staff in preparation for the upcoming changes at Lake Wanahoo and modeled the permit after theirs.