Last March, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission approved a plan aimed at reducing rowdy partiers at overcrowded beaches at Lake McConaughy by limiting the number of campsites, increasing their cost, banning alcohol consumption on the state property and ramping up law enforcement at the lake near Ogallala.
Then came the coronavirus, a park shutdown and operations at limited capacity through the summer and fall, eliminating the need for and implementation of the plan that was created after decades of complaints about the parties and crowding at Nebraska’s No. 2 tourist attraction.
So the plan will be implemented this year, and, as they did a year ago, Ogallala-area business owners are raising concerns that the restrictions will dramatically reduce the number of visitors.
Some fear that decline could be as much as 75% from the 1.8 million to 1.9 million people of pre-pandemic years. That’s an exaggerated figure.
But cutting the number of campsites to 1,500, 1,000 of them on the beaches that line the 22-mile long reservoir, requiring pre-registration for the campsites, increasing the cost of camping from $12 a day to $25 a day on weekends and boosting enforcement will unquestionably reduce the numbers at the lake.
The plan, as the business owners rightfully have pointed out, is likely to come as a surprise to many of those driving in from Colorado, who, understandably haven’t paid attention to the changes coming at the lake.
That possibility, and the related entanglements of thousands of disappointed people turning up at Lake McConaughy with no place to camp and no chance to party, makes it incumbent on the Game and Parks Commission and the Nebraska Tourism Commission to get the word out to Coloradans about the changes as soon as possible.
Then the plan should be allowed to go forward, working, we hope for the benefit of park visitors and, in the long run, area businesses as well.
The Nebraska Legislature is now considering a plan to provide more money for law enforcement and physical improvements at Lake McConaughy that would, in time, likely allow more visitors and campsites.
Venango Sen. Dan Hughes’ LB336 would increase the price of the annual state park sticker fee for nonresidents from $45 to $60, or twice what is charged to Nebraskans, with some of the additional revenue to be directed to the lake. That’s a plan that should go forward as well.