For some, camping means fresh air, quiet surroundings, and chance to see wildlife in a natural environment. Others want a change of scenery without losing the creature comforts they have come to expect. They bring along air conditioning, showers and their favorite television shows and music. To accommodate these campers, water lines and electrical outlets are provided at some recreational areas and parks. Campgrounds with modern facilities are often very popular. In fact, some resemble small villages, where televisions and radios compete with each other and paper plates can be sailed from one campsite to the next.
Camping is a time to relax, a fact sometimes forgotten by those who put a premium on going with the crowd to the latest and greatest spot. Some camping areas consistently draw large crowds and attention, whether for their location or their fishing and water sports opportunities.
Fortunately, Nebraska has many excellent, small camping areas that provide a relaxed atmosphere. While most of these areas are rugged by high-tech camping standards, they are great spots for quiet getaways and offer access to lightly used resources. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission manages nearly 100 campgrounds in the state. Camping is also available on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and some natural resources districts.
Tom and Judy Bessey of LaVista are among the dedicated fans of these small camping areas.
The Besseys camp two or three times a month throughout the summer season, from May to late-August or early-September. They don't have to travel far from the Omaha area to find what they're looking for.
Relaxing at a shoreline campsite at Memphis State Recreation Area (SRA) near Memphis, Tom Bessey said, "We try to camp out here, and at Two Rivers, Louisville, Fremont - that's about as far as we'll go. We basically camp a lot just to get away from the house. Out here we don't have a phone, don't have a radio, and don't have a TV."
Keeping one eye on her fishing pole, Judy Bessey waved her hand at the dozens of empty campsites throughout the campground. "I don't think a lot of people know where this campground is at," she said. "You can see, here on a Friday night, it's not real busy. It's pretty peaceful and quiet."
"You hear a lot about people going to the big lakes," said Tom Bessey. "A lot of people won't come to places like these because they're sort of primitive and they want to go where they can get a shower. We basically look for the primitive areas because there's not going to be a lot of other people and it won't be real loud. You don't have to worry about a lot of other people on the lakes with big boats."
The Besseys' observations about their favorite spots hold true for dozens of under-used areas across the state. This story is based on an informal survey of Commission employees and
Here are a few camping gems you might want to consider when you start airing out the sleeping bags this summer. For information about other state-owned camping areas, call the Commission at (800) 826-7275, or visit its web site at outdoornebraska.org and click on the parks and recreation button.
Although this is one of the Besseys' favorite locations, Memphis SRA might not be a prime spot in 2002, but don't forget it in future seasons. The area's 48-acre lake is currently under renovation, and dirt work there should be done by late summer. Fishery biologists hope to begin filling the lake at that time, and when water levels are sufficient, it will be stocked with largemouth bass, bluegills and channel catfish. Biologists are also considering stocking orangespotted and redear sunfish. Only electric- or non-powered boats are allowed at Memphis - a rule that helps maintain the peaceful surroundings.
Memphis SRA features a large campground with dozens of mature, shade-producing trees scattered throughout. The playgrounds and open grassy areas give youngsters plenty of room to play, and the campground wraps around the north lake shore, providing dozens of campsites along the water's edge. There are 150 non-pad campsites available, but none have electricity.
Memphis SRA is located on the northwestern edge of Memphis in Sarpy County. Nearby attractions include the Strategic Air and Space Museum, Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, and the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari.
The highlight of Verdon SRA is its spring-fed, 45-acre lake. Renovated in 1998, the lake is filled with chunky, hard-fighting largemouth bass, as well as bluegills, white crappies and channel catfish. Only electric boat motors are allowed on the lake.
Verdon was one of the first projects we did with the aquatic habitat program, and we feel like it's been one of our better projects," said Jeff Jackson, district fisheries manager. "Fishermen should be able to do pretty well there."
A canopy of trees provides shelter from the midday sun for 20 campsites at Verdon SRA, but no electricity is available. It is located next to Nebraska Highway 73, a half-mile west of the town of Verdon in Richardson County, which is in the southeastern corner of the state.
Grove Lake WMA
Good fishing, scenery and wildlife-viewing opportunities are the big drawing cards for Grove Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA).
The lake contains big largemouth bass and northern pike, and the east branch of Verdigre
Grove Lake Fish Hatchery, located just south of the area, raises the rainbows. Visitors may stroll the hatchery grounds and check out the coldwater trout runs. Ashfall State Historical Park, an archaeological site with outstanding exhibits, is about five miles to the northwest.
Grove Lake WMA is located two miles north of Royal in Antelope County. No electrical hookups are provided, but toilets and drinking water are available. Some campsites are near the lake, and there is also a camping area next to the creek. A portion of the lake's camping areas will be closed this summer as part of a lake renovation, but the north end of the lake and the creek will be open for fishing.
Toadstool Geologic Park
Toadstool Geologic Park features a very small camping area, but it is a must see for anyone who believes Nebraska is boring and flat. The park is noted for unusual geologic formations
Toadstool Park is part of the Oglala National Grassland in Sioux County. It can be reached by traveling four miles north of Crawford on Nebraska Highways 2 and 71, then 15 miles northwest on Toadstool Road. Other attractions in the area include Fort Robinson State Park and the Hudson-Meng Bison Bonebed, where nearly 10,000 years ago a herd of 600 bison mysteriously died in an area smaller than a football field.
Located in Jefferson County, Alexandria SRA offers good fishing and plenty of shade trees. The area's two lakes total 43 acres and were recently renovated. Surveys indicate the lakes contain the largest number of bass in the region, some longer than 15 inches. Anglers also have success catching bluegills and channel catfish. Fishing is usually best in the early spring and late fall because underground springs provide nutrients to the lakes, causing excessive weed growth in summer. A gravel road encircling one lake and most of the other provides easy fishing access.
Alexandria SRA is located four miles east of the town of Alexandria. It has 25 non-pad campsites with electrical hookups, and 15 sites without electricity. A small swimming beach is available. Only electric- and non-powered boats are allowed on the lakes.
Gallagher Canyon SRA
Although a challenge to get to, Gallagher Canyon offers outstanding scenery and some of the state's best fishing for crappies and line-busting flathead and channel catfish, according to Brad Newcomb, a fisheries biologist for the Commission.
"It has a very good crappie system, especially in the spring, and a very good catfish population," Newcomb said.
Gallagher Canyon is part of the Central Irrigation District Supply Canal. The area provides water access to more than 10 miles of the canal, and is open to all boats. The canal connects with Plum Creek Canyon Reservoir and Johnson Lake. Fishing is also available for walleye, sauger, white bass and freshwater drum.
Larry Roper, who manages the area, described the campground as heavily wooded. He said except for major holidays, the campground is never full.
"It's really kind of a neat area," Roper said. "It's too bad it's so far off the beaten path, but at the same time, that's what makes it so attractive to some people."
There are 72 non-pad campsites and drinking water is available, but no electricity. The area has a boat ramp and a dock.
To reach Gallagher Canyon, go 10 miles south of Cozad on U.S. Highway 21, then travel county roads by going east for two miles, one mile north, and then one mile west.
Keller Park SRA
Located in north-central Nebraska, Keller Park SRA is located in a scenic valley three miles west and nine miles north of the town of Long Pine on Nebraska Highway 183. The park has 186 acres straddling Bone Creek, and there are 25 camping pads with electrical hookups and 10 campsites without electricity. Keller School Land WMA is adjacent to the park and provides 640 additional acres for hiking and viewing the area's abundant wildlife. The park also has five ponds, two of which are stocked with rainbow trout. Bluegills, channel catfish and largemouth bass are the other fish available.
Crystal Lake SRA
Roger and Carol Schroer of Hastings have been camping at Crystal Lake SRA "for years," and they describe it as a little-known secret.
"This place is so close to a lot of people," said Roger, as he and his wife pushed grandsons Brandon and Alex Roughton on the swings. "It's a great place to come, and it's only a ten minute drive from home."
Crystal Lake is a 33-acre park along the Little Blue River in south-central Nebraska. Located just north of Ayr, in Adams County, this quiet getaway has a small lake with a beach, and a playground.
Large cottonwood trees dot the area and a large expanse of mowed grass provides lots of room for the children to play. There are also several old rock shelters suitable for group picnics. Author Willa Cather's hometown of Red Cloud is 30 miles to the south.
Crystal Lake has 20 campsites with electrical hookups and 50 without.
Riverview SRA is one of the few public places in the state that provides camping next to the Missouri River. Norma Lee of Nebraska City spends her summers as the area's campground host. She said Riverview campers come from all over to enjoy the relaxation of the river.
"It's pretty quiet down here," Lee said. "Quiet and there's the access to the river so people can fish and boat. We've always had good boating down here. We also have good shade trees, and if there's a breeze, it's pretty nice here along the river." Geese, turkeys and deer are just a few of the wildlife species that call the area home and help make it special, said Lee.
"I spend all summer here," she said. "I love it. I'm an outdoorsperson."
Riverview SRA is located on the northeastern edge of Nebraska City. It has 16 camping pads with electrical hookups and 30 sites without. Drinking water, modern restrooms and a shower house are also available.
Walgren Lake SRA
Located 21/2 miles east and 21/2 miles south of Hay Springs on graveled roads, Walgren Lake is
A rock shelterhouse is available at Walgren Lake SRA on a first-come, first-served basis, and the area's 50-acre lake, which has a 5-mph speed limit, features a handicapped-accessible fishing pier and two boat ramps and boat docks.
Mature, shady cottonwood trees are scattered throughout Walgren's 40 campsites, but no electricity is available. The lake contains black bullheads, bluegills, largemouth bass, walleyes, white crappies and yellow perch, but the heavy vegetation usually limits fishing in late summer.