A view of Lake Wanahoo as seen from the west side looking east in early January. (FRANCIS GARDLER / Lincoln Journal Star file photo)

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission on Friday took Lake Wanahoo, a flood-control and recreational project near Wahoo, under its wing.

"It's an exciting project," said Roger Kuhn, assistant director in charge of parks for the state agency. "It's not very often that a large body of water is created in Nebraska, especially in eastern Nebraska."

In a related matter, the commission took steps to divest itself of two properties for financial reasons: Pibel Lake State Recreation Area near Burwell and Champion Mill State Historical Park in Chase County.

The commission will operate and maintain Lake Wanahoo through an interlocal agreement with the Lower Platte North Natural Resources District, principal developer of the lake. However, the commission will operate only half of the project as a state recreation area for three years.

The commission will control the lower end, from a "breakwater structure" in the middle of the reservoir to the dam, Kuhn told the commission before its unanimous vote.

The upper end of the project is not ready for formal designation as a state recreation area, Kuhn said, because some details have to be worked out with Pheasants Forever. During hunting season, that area is used by the nonprofit group for a youth hunting program.

Visitors still will be able to use the upper end of the project for fishing, birdwatching and hiking when there is no hunting season, Kuhn said.

"This is a great recreational opportunity. It would be sad if it did not open to the public," Kuhn said, adding that local taxpayers would benefit the most.

Based on its experience operating the Salt Valley Lakes that surround Lincoln, the commission estimates it will cost about $136,000 a year to operate and maintain Lake Wanahoo.

Campsite rentals and other fees will bring in about $74,000 a year, and the NRD will pay the commission about $17,000 a year and  contribute about $45,000 in in-kind services.

The commission and NRD also agreed to share the cost of building a shower/latrine building and a shop/storage facility. A small parking lot near Nebraska 109 was not part of the agreement because it is too close to a home, Kuhn said.

Lake Wanahoo's recreational facilities include a 662-acre reservoir with seven fishing jetties to allow anglers access to deeper waters, no-wake boating, 74 camper pads for recreational vehicles and 60 tent camping sites, day use and picnic shelters, and walking and biking trails.

The NRD board approved the basic concepts of the agreement at its Jan. 9 meeting and will take a final vote Feb. 13.

Planning of Lake Wanahoo, officially called the Lake Wanahoo-Sand Creek Watershed Project, began in the early 1990s, and the first shovel of dirt was turned in October 2008. The NRD will own the project, which was done in conjunction with the city of Wahoo and Saunders County.

Kuhn predicted that Lake Wanahoo will see heavy use, especially by anglers, because of its proximity to Omaha and Lincoln. The lake is set to open this spring.

"The fish population is absolutely outstanding," Kuhn said, citing recent surveys.

NRD General Manager John Miyoshi echoed Kuhn's comment: "We know we are going to have a lot of fish."

In other action, the commission:

* Approved the purchase of 11.39 acres of native oak forest adjacent to Platte River State Park near Louisville for $90,000 from the Nebraska Game and Parks Foundation. The lane will provide an important connection to 34 acres already owned by the commission, Kuhn said.

* Authorized the transfer of Pibel Lake State Recreation Area near Burwell to the Lower Loup Natural Resources District, pending approval from the Legislature. Kuhn said the commission spends about $8,700 annually to operate and maintain the 72-acre property but takes in only $1,340 a year in revenue.

* Authorized the transfer of Champion Mill State Historical Park in the southwest corner of Nebraska to Chase County, pending approval from the Legislature. Game and Parks acquired the park in 1969 and spends $12,000 a year on operations and maintenance but receives only about $550 annually.

* Elected Ron Stave of Waterloo as chairman, Norris Marshall of Kearney as vice chairman and Jerrod Burke of Curtis as second vice chairman.

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Reach Algis J. Laukaitis at 402-473-7243 or alaukaitis@journalstar.com.


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