Amid outbreak, changes for Nebraska Game and Parks

Here in Nebraska, we have many great outdoor areas to recreate and self-distance ourselves in during this time. State recreation areas, state historical parks and wildlife management areas will still have its grounds open for the public to hike, bike, picnic and view wildlife.

In a proactive effort to prevent the potential for spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has temporarily closed public access to its Lincoln headquarters and its district offices in North Platte, Norfolk and Alliance, and service centers in Kearney and Bassett will temporarily close today until further notice. The agency’s Omaha service center has been closed to the public since March 16. The Commission has a response plan and is taking proactive measures to protect our customers and our employees, public safety and the safety of our staff are our top priorities.

The North Platte Game and Parks office will have their phone number of 308-535-8025 posted on the front door and will still assist people needing permits or that have other questions. Permit purchases may be taken over the phone and mailed from the North Platte office or purchased online at outdoornebraska.org.

All Game and Parks visitor centers and park offices will temporarily close to the public on Monday. Park grounds remain open for day use and park cabins and campgrounds remain open. Guests with reservations are encouraged to contact the park offices for payment and check-in instructions. Guests can purchase park permits from the commission’s website or at a self-service station.

As the situation develops, Game and Parks may close additional facilities to public access. For a list of all Game and Parks cancellations, postponements and closures, go to outdoornebraska.org/healthinfo. For more detailed information about how COVID-19 cancellations may affect customers, check the “Frequently Asked Questions” page at outdoornebraska.gov/covid19faqs.

Nebraska’s state park areas and wildlife areas are open-space landscapes that offer tremendous opportunities to enjoy the outdoors this spring, even under current circumstances. Here in southwest Nebraska, we have many great outdoor areas to recreate and self-distance ourselves in during this time. State recreation areas, state historical parks and wildlife management areas will still have its grounds open for the public to walk, bike, picnic, and view wildlife at.

Crane viewing

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has closed the public crane viewing blind at North River Wildlife Management Area north of Hershey in order to help protect its staff and customers by removing opportunities for crowds to gather at facilities and events and by maintaining clean areas that are available to the public.

The prairie-chicken viewing blind, which is a partnership between the Commission and the Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement, will also be closed for this season to help eliminate opportunities for the virus to be spread.

Enjoying the crane migration is available on several driving routes from North Platte to Hershey. Buffalo Bill Ranch State Recreation Area has a scenic drive-through where cranes can be seen flying across the North Platte River and feeding in the adjacent meadows. Early mornings and late evenings you can watch the cranes fly over the North Platte River at Cody Park in North Platte.

The North Platte/Lincoln County Visitors Bureau has a self-guided Sandhill crane driving route brochure, which is available from their office located at 101 Halligan Drive or online at visitnorthplatte.com/outdoor-recreation. Please do not approach the birds on foot as it will scare them off, but enjoy them from your vehicle.

Turkey hunting

Nebraska has the nation’s best turkey hunting opportunities, and spring turkey archery season will begin March 25. Hunters can use the mobile permitting system to purchase permits and have that permit on a mobile device to use in place of a paper permit. The mobile version allows the permit holder to cancel that permit once a turkey is harvested. Internet service is required to access a mobile permit or the mobile site, so be sure to save the image of the permit to your device in case service is not available in the field. Go to the Commission web site and purchase permit and follow the prompts.

The Nebraska archery turkey season for youth and adults begins Wednesday followed by the shotgun season for youth, which begins April 6 and the general shotgun season starting April 13. All turkey seasons close May 31 giving turkey hunters plenty of time to get in the field.

Spring turkey hunters may have three permits. Permits are valid statewide and allow for the taking of one male or bearded female per permit. A small game permit is not required to turkey hunt; a turkey permit and habitat stamp is required for hunters 16 and older. Veterans and residents 69 and older do not need a habitat stamp. Permits may be purchased at Game and Parks permitting offices or online.

Take a kid out hunting this spring and show them the enjoyment that being outside and watching turkeys can bring. Permits for youth 15 years and younger are only $8 and there is no minimum age to turkey hunt. Youth 12 to 15 years old that need hunter education can get an apprentice hunter education exemption certificate for $5 at ngpc-home.ne.gov.

Shooting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise to sunset; it is unlawful to take or attempt to take any turkey perched in a tree before sunrise.

Hunters are encouraged to read all the rules and regulations in the 2020 Turkey Hunting Guide and pick up a copy of the Public Access Atlas to find the numerous public hunting areas available across the state and areas located in Lincoln County.

Learning tools from Game and Parks

There is a whole world to explore and learn from right out your back door and with our youth out of school, we should all be mindful of screen time and behaviors associated with overuse. Research shows that time outdoors improve our mental and emotional health. Make backyard play a part of your daily routine.

The Game and Parks Nebraska Project WILD program are developing some great ideas on how best to assist those of you at home with your kids; there are nature scavenger hunts, articles on setting up a bird feeder and bird watching, things to do when it’s raining and much more on our website at outdoornebraska.gov/projectwild and outdoornebraska.gov/lessonplans. Along with many different and printable teaching resources and videos there are links to other outdoor resources available for parents to utilize. For those of you on Facebook, check and follow the Nebraska Project WILD page for more ideas that are added throughout the week.

Be sure to get outside and relax, get some fresh air and enjoy the great outdoors. It’s a great place to be during a time when we all need to help each other out and it’s a great place to explore and have outdoor places for kids of all ages to learn about.

Trout fishing

Trout are being stocked in lakes across the state this month for fishing opportunities. These stockings will enhance fishing opportunities this spring, especially in urban areas. Trout fishing also is a great way to introduce children to fishing because simple and inexpensive equipment may be used.

The stocked trout are approximately 10 inches in length. The following is where trout have been stocked in our area: Birdwood Wildlife Management Area west of North Platte, Curtis Golf Course Pond, Lake Helen in Gothenburg, Plum Creek Park Pond at Lexington, Lake Ogallala, Lake No. 6 at Fort Kearny State Recreation Area, Lake No. 2 at Windmill State Recreation Area, Gibbon. To see more information about all the trout stocking in Nebraska, visit OutdoorNebraska.gov/fishstockingreports.

If there isn’t enough room take out trout slam info below

Participate in Nebraska’s

Trout Slam

Trout anglers can participate in the Nebraska Game and Parks Trout Slam. The contest is for anglers that want to get out and catch all four species of trout in Nebraska and have bragging rights about their catches. Anglers who catch the four trout species; brook, brown, rainbow and cutthroat are eligible to receive a special Trout Slam award and be included in the online record of Nebraska Trout Slam winners. Most of Nebraska’s year-round, cold-water trout fisheries are found in the northern and western parts of the state – often in scenic areas well worth visiting.

There is no time limit on completing a slam, but all trout submitted must be caught in Nebraska waters. An angler can complete the trout slam more than once. Residents and non-residents can complete a slam. Catch and release of trout is encouraged. Tiger trout, which are a hybrid trout, are not eligible for the Trout Slam. Anglers must have a valid, current Nebraska fishing permit at the time each trout is caught and must follow all length and bag limits; these limits can be found in the 2018 Fishing Guide. The guides are available at Game and Parks offices, local vendors or on the Commission’s web page.

Each time an angler catches a different trout species they must visit outdoornebraska.gov/troutslam and complete a submission form for the catch. To qualify for the award, anglers must catch, photograph, release if wished, and include the date of catch, angler contact information and angler fishing license number, along with a photo of the trout. Anglers without online access can pick up paper submission forms at the North Platte Game and Parks office. When you have caught your last fish, check “yes” next to the box indicating that you have completed your slam. Those who complete the slam will receive a certificate and pin.

Detailed maps of waters containing trout in Nebraska, downloadable guides and other information can be found at the trout slam web page listed above.

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