The Nebraska Game and Parks decision Friday to end the season at Arbor Lodge State Historical Park in Nebraska City after the Annual AppleJack Festival is expected to cancel scheduled living history events, but the Enchanted Arboretum public art auction will continue as planned.
The state announced Friday it would temporarily close five historic parks and 24 state recreation areas on Sept. 16 in order to focus resources on maintenance projects. Arbor Lodge will stay open until after the AppleJack Festival Sept. 20-22.
Jim Swenson, regional parks manager, said the park will also be available for the art auction on Saturday, Sept. 28. The auction features 71 stylized tree forms created in a public art project. Professional artists created 25, six-foot trees for placement in Nebraska City.
Rose Ralstin of Nebraska City Tourism and Commerce said she would like opportunity to speak with the state park's agency director Jim Douglas about preserving the living history day events.
Douglas said there will be foot traffic in the closed parks, but no vehicle entry and no services. He said there will no activities that require the park staff's attention, but he is willing to consider park uses on a case-by-case basis.
Ralstin said closing of the park a couple of weeks early is not ideal, but she expects the city's orchards, Arbor Day Farm and museums to continue draw visitors.
The mansion at Arbor Lodge is scheduled to re-open April 23, 2014 for the Arbor Day celebration.
The purpose of the closures is to redirect Game and Parks staff from the closed areas in an effort to reduce the more than $30 million of identified deferred maintenance needs of an aging Nebraska State Park System and meet compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and environmental requirements.
Riverview Marina in Nebraska City is among the state recreation areas scheduled to close Sept. 16 and re-open May 1. Vehicle access to the boat ramp will remain open at Riverview, as well as Pelican Point and Sutherland's Hershey Beach.
Other recreation areas in the action are Blue River, Cheyenne, Conestoga, Cottonwood, Dead Timber, DLD, Keller, Long Lake, Long Pine, North Loup, Olive Creek, Oliver Reservoir, Pelican Point, Riverview Marina, Rock Creek Lake, Sandy Channel, Schramm, Sutherland, Union Pacific, Verdon, Stagecoach, Walgren, and War Axe.
Other historical parks to close are Ash Hollow, Buffalo Bill, and Fort Hartsuff.
Fort Atkinson park and Alexandria recreation area will close Oct. 7 and reopen May 1.
This is to accommodate Fort Atkinson's annual living history weekend Oct. 5-6. The delayed closure at Alexandria accommodates services being provided by a concessionaire.
These closures are a continuation of a process over the past five years that led to the transfer of eight park areas, privatization and consolidation of several park operations, and elimination of 43 permanent park positions, the commission reports.
Page 2 of 2 - "These decisions have been driven by the lack of a sustainable funding source to operate and maintain a quality State Park System into the future," Douglas said.
"The temporary closure of parks and the redirection of staff to work priority projects is one more step in an effort to address the funding challenges of the Nebraska State Park System," Douglas said.
"Game and Parks recognizes and values the importance of our partnerships and the role our state park areas play. These measures are a necessary management decision that is difficult to make, but Game and Parks is running out of options. We hope the public and our park visitors will understand we are doing everything we can to shore up our infrastructure and meet our mandates for accessibility and requirements regarding environmental compliance in light of the limited funding available," he said.
State Sen. Bill Avery introduced LB362 during the 2013 legislative session. The bill was designed to replace the Park Entry Permit by placing a $7 charge on the motor vehicle registration fee. LB362's future is uncertain, but if passed as proposed, the bill's language would repeal the Park Entry Permit requirement for residents and generate enough annual revenue to provide a sustainable funding model that would allow Game and Parks to properly address deferred maintenance and ADA needs to ensure a quality State Park System.