Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

By Daniel Thompson

Kimball community hears plans for Oliver Reservoir


Daniel Thompson

Residents will see changes to the rules and regulations of Oliver Reservoir come spring.

Representatives from the South Platte Natural Resources District along with the Oliver Reservoir Advisory Committee held a public meeting Wednesday, February 26, to inform local residents of the changes that will be taking place in the regulations that govern the reservoir and recreation areas.

According to Galen Wittrock, Assistant Manager for South Platte Natural Resources District who have taken over management of Oliver Reservoir from Nebraska Game and Parks Commission as of Feb. 1, residents who come to Oliver Reservoir Recreation Area this summer will be able to enter the recreation area, with the benefit of not having to pay any fees.

"The biggest change you're going to see is you no longer need a park permit. This is no longer under Game and Parks so you no longer need to pay that park permit. With input from this advisory committee and the NRD Board of Directors, at this point, there will be really no fees whatsoever to access Oliver Reservoir. No park permit, and if you want to go out there and camp you can do that without fees involved. What we're really relying on are donations," Wittrock said.

However, residents will still be held to state and federal regulations concerning hunting and fishing.

"We're still going to have to abide by state game and fishing laws. The game warden will still come down to Oliver and check hunters and fisherman. We'll also rely on the Kimball County Sheriff's Office for patrols as well," Wittrock said.

The NRD will also be heavily depending on volunteerism from residents from the surrounding region to keep the park free of charge.

"We feel there a lot of people that use Oliver, local people. I think, if we made this a great recreation area with your guys' help with volunteers, people are going to be really appreciative of that and provide donations. Those metal boxes that are out there right now that Game and Parks used for camping fees, we're going to keep those but put signage up there that says, 'Donations appreciated.' We're going to give that a try," Wittrock said.

The NRD will also be implementing a new garbage program called "Pack it In, Pack it Out", according to Wittrock.

"Just when you leave, pack everything up and take it back to your place or back to town and find a dumpster. Work with us and keep it clean," Wittrock said.

There will also be no glass containers allowed near the beach area of the reservoir.

"Any time you're on the beach, the last thing you want to do is find a piece of glass in your foot so we're pretty much going to say no glass containers allowed on the beach. If you have glass containers in your camper, that's fine. We just don't want to have glass containers on the beach," Wittrock said.

The changes in the rules and regulations come on the heels of a changeover from the previous management by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission who managed the reservoir for approximately thirty years. However, due to budget cuts, Game and Parks was forced to pull out of managing the reservoir leading to it almost being closed in September of 2013.

"We worked really closely with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission on management and rules and regulations. Overall, all the rules and regulations that you guys put up with the last 30 plus years were because of what Game and Parks had. Since then, with budget cuts, Game and Parks is trying to back out of recreation areas, and they're kind of relying on the local citizens, such as you guys and the NRD, to take over management. Our Board of Directors did approve taking over management of the reservoir," Wittrock said.

In moving forward with taking over management of the reservoir and preparing for moving forward with improvements, the NRD, which has had ownership of the reservoir since the 1980s, set up an Oliver Reservoir Advisory Committee consisting of Tim Nolting, Chairman, Larry Stahla, Vice Chairman, Alan Adamon, Kimball County Sheriff Harry Gillway, and several other members of the Kimball community that helped in avoiding the closure of Lake Oliver following Game and Parks decision to discontinue their involvement.

"We've been working together for about six months on the advisory committee. Through the NRD and people around here we were able to get that closure stopped and step up the process of getting the lake turned over to the community," Nolting said.

Along with helping to save the reservoir from being closed, the committee has since worked closely with the NRD to create a General Management Overview (GMO) which guides the management of resources, visitor use, and general development over a 20 year horizon which will provide the foundation for "protecting recreation area resources while providing for meaningful visitor experiences".

However, though the GMO is helpful in setting guidelines with which to set up areas of focus for the current Oliver Reservoir rehabilitation efforts to be undertaken over the coming years, it is only the first phase of the project with the plan to be fine tuned over the course of the next several years, according to Wittrock.

"That general management overview is just a real rough idea of what we want to do, but throughout the next several years, we'll be developing actual goals with your input," Wittrock said to the crowd.

The GMO presented at the meeting largely covers simple management zones within the reservoir and the potential for further construction of each zone along with identifying the use of each zone.

The zones consist of: the Primitive Zone, which is comprised of 416 acres and reflects a desired condition that emphasizes natural resources; the Water Resources Zone, which is comprised of 186 acres and encompasses the surface/lake area; the Developed Recreation/Visitors Zone, which is comprised of 126 acres and allows active recreation with high density use conducted in areas not designated for natural resource significance; the Operations/Services Zone, which is comprised of 60 acres and encompasses the developed areas required for program administration and operations; and the Natural Resources Zone, which is comprised of 129 acres and encompasses the land on the northeast portion of the area.

However, in looking at ways to develop the different zones, Wittrock states that the Primitive and Natural zones will see the least development as the Recreation and Water Resources zones will be the primary focus through creating more boat ramps and fishing docks on the lake.

When considering the lake itself, water level issues left over from the drought of 2012 are still present, keeping the water levels low at Oliver Lake, according to Rod Horn, Manager of the NRD.

"There's 48 to 52 inches that come off of it from evaporation per year. if your inflows, precipitation, ground water, surface runoff does not keep up with that, then you have this losing pool of water, and that's what we're seeing today is that, with the timing of ground water development, the drought, the system is not keeping up. We definitely need to have that precipitation," Horn said.

However, the decreased water levels do not come as a surprise as they were predicted in a study conducted in 1976 entitled "Oliver Dam Rehabilitation Technical Feasibility Report".

"We met at that time with ground water development, drought and droughts each year the system got further and further behind. It's interesting because even then they projected that at some point pretty close to where we're at, you can see the flows coming in are not keeping up with evaporation. Even in '76, we were seeing some of this information," Horn said.

With the low water levels, the NRD is focusing more on the hunting, fishing, camping and other recreational activities until a solution can be found.

Near the end of the meeting, Wittrock once again expressed that the success of the rehabilitation project will widely depend on the work of local volunteers, who have already devoted a significant amount of their own time at the reservoir within the past several months.

"Just in the last several months, we've had some great help from volunteers. They've been out at the east end of the northeast quarter of the lake working on a low water boat ramp. This here is just another access for boats in time of low water levels. If you want to go fishing, you can use that boat ramp," Wittrock said. "With all you guys involved and volunteers that did all that. Once again, it's volunteers and everything else that gets this stuff done."

However, this is not the first time that a project at Oliver Reservoir was dependent upon the involvement of the community. In the very beginning stages of the reservoir, it was due to the large donations by people from the region, totaling a staggering $106,360 from January to April of 1976 that allowed the reservoir to be constructed in the first place, according to Larry Stahla.

"It took four months to do that. Our goal was going to be $80,000. The people of Kimball, Pine Bluffs, and the whole area they came through," Stahla said.

Once again, Stahla and the committee are looking for donations and volunteers to revive the project.

"When you look at that, what struck me was that these people worked so hard out there, but they were really doing it for this generation. Maybe that's something we ought to keep in mind and pass that forward to the next. We'll be asking for people to help," Stahla said.

Before closing the meeting, Tim Nolting addressed the crowd likening the effort to save Oliver Reservoir to the film "The Man Who Went up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain", which is based on a true story that took place in a small village in England in 1914.

Daniel Thompson

The names of the original donators when the project started in the '70s still hang on the walls of the old 4-H Building.

"There was a small village that had a mountain that was the pride and joy of the community. Some English surveyors came through and said, 'That's not a mountain. That's a hill.' They did a survey and found that it was 19 feet too short to be classified as a mountain. So, in the course of the next week, the entire village arranged to keep the engineers stranded and built that mountain an additional twenty feet, and the new survey put it on the map as a mountain," Nolting said.

While Oliver Reservoir is no mountain, Nolting states that the effort that volunteers and local residents have put into it can be easily compared to the efforts of the people in the film.

"Folks in this community, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and especially you folks here did the same thing by keeping Oliver Reservoir alive. So you owe yourselves a big hand of approval and appreciation, and that's the kind of effort we're looking for in the future," Nolting said.

Anyone seeking more information on the project can call the South Platte Natural Resources District at 308-254-2377.


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