As promised after a room-busting public meeting last week, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission board Wednesday tabled a plan to limit Lake McConaughy overcrowding by sharply limiting camping and beach access.
The board voted 9-0 to delay adoption so local leaders can help revise the plan, the Ogallala/Keith County Chamber of Commerce said in a post on its Facebook page.
A McConaughy-area advisory group will work with Game and Parks staff members on revisions to be presented at the commission’s March 20 meeting in Hastings, the state agency said in a press release.
A delegation of Ogallala-area leaders attended Wednesday’s monthly commission meeting in Lincoln. Details on next steps will be offered soon, the chamber’s Facebook post said.
City and county leaders, joined by hundreds from three states who crammed into the Lake McConaughy Visitor Center for a Thursday open house, had warned that without alterations Game and Parks’ management plan could wreck their tourism economy.
Two days later, Game and Parks officials announced they would temporarily set aside the plan to enable more local input.
“The issues and challenges identified at Lake McConaughy and Lake Ogallala remain,” said Parks Division Administrator Jim Swenson, one of many Game and Parks participants in last week’s open house.
“We look forward to working with a local advisory group to gain success in restoring Lake McConaughy and Lake Ogallala to quality and safe recreation environments.”
Annual visits to the twin lakes have quadrupled over 25 years to more than 1.9 million in both 2018 and 2019, lifting Lake Mac near the top of Nebraska’s list of most visited attractions.
It also triggered the lake’s most unruly Fourth of July holiday period since 1995, when near-riot conditions resulted in shows of force by law enforcement and a Game and Parks ban on alcohol consumption.
Local complaints about last summer’s rowdiness led Game and Parks early this month to unveil a new strategy of carving up large stretches of beaches at both lakes into designated camping and day-use areas.
It would double total camping spaces to about 600 but make them all reservation-only, with limits of eight people per beach space or permanent asphalt pad.
Swenson estimated last Thursday that the draft plan would limit McConaughy’s peak daily attendance to between 5,000 and 7,500, down from as many as 25,000 a day during holiday periods.
But local residents and lake users said the plan would forever change McConaughy’s “people’s lake” atmosphere while ruining lake-dependent businesses by driving most visitors away.
Nine Ogallala and Keith County leaders met at the visitor center before Thursday’s open house with four Game and Parks commissioners. They emerged saying changes to the plan were possible.