NEBRASKAland July 2018

NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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Page 40 of 59

JULY 2018 • NEBRASKAland 41 J ust a few miles off the pavement near the edge of the Sandhills lies a prime opportunity for those seeking a quiet getaway. Walgren Lake State Recreation Area near Hay Springs is among the state's best bets for providing both an enjoyable time during the day and a good sleep at night. Walgren features 40 campsites, almost all under the shade of mature deciduous trees and within a stone's throw of the 100-acre lake. Moreover, largely because it is more than three miles from pavement, it is usually among the state's most quiet recreation areas. That does not mean the lake is not popular, however. Gregg Galbraith, who oversees Walgren as superintendent at Chadron State Park, said the area gets its heaviest usage from locals, but that he is noticing increased visitation from farther away. "I've never seen so many campers and boaters over there as what I saw Memorial Day weekend this year," Galbraith said. "They were catching fish and having a good time." Some of the earliest issues of this magazine tell about visions to make Walgren Lake one of the state's premier attractions. In fact, in 1926 the first issue of Outdoor Nebraska – the predecessor of NEBRASKAland Magazine – had news of the "important holding" of the 130-acre area of Walgren Lake being secured by the state fish and game agency for recreation. Those early articles also discuss the digging of a ditch from Hay Springs Creek to control water in the lake, and cooperation among the Hay Springs Izaak Walton League Chapter, county and state officials to grade a road from the "new state highway" and plant trees. Back then, many called it "Alkali Lake." Today, Walgren attracts campers who like a quiet place with a blend of "roughing it" and not. Today's visitors surely enjoy the shade from the trees planted by the visionaries of the 1920s. It has vault toilets, but no shower houses, trash services or hook-ups for electricity and water. While the lake may be popular now, it is not making headlines as it did in the early 20th century. In 1921-1922, the Hay Springs News carried a series of accounts from local landowners and visitors reporting a dark gray creature at least 10, and maybe more than 20, feet long and two to three feet wide. The first person to report it said his horses became excited as the creature surfaced and "emitted a spout of water 15 to 20 feet straight up" before going back under. The reports caused fodder for discussion. Was it a big catfish? An oversized "mud pup"? Or perhaps a gray whale that somehow made its way inland? The story may have been confined to the Panhandle had it not been for John G. Maher, an employee of the Hay Springs News, who used his flair for writing with a story of the creature he submitted to the New York Herald – a publication that often paid for sensational tales from the West to boost its circulation. The big paper printed the story and several other publications from afar followed suit, even the London Times. The real identity of the "monster" remains a mystery as there have been no recent reports of it and a group's scheme in 1923 to drag the lake and capture the monster – and charge admission to do so – did not come to fruition. Even though today's visitors probably will not see a monster, the lake has plenty of other reasons for excitement beneath the water's surface. It is a popular place to wet a line and the fishery has been doing well with the high water levels of recent years. While Walgren may not technically be a Sandhills lake (the Sandhills begins in earnest about five miles east of the SRA), Commission district fisheries supervisor Al Hanson said it looks, fishes and acts like one. Anglers can expect to catch bluegills exceeding eight inches and crappies in the 8- to 10-inch range. The lake also has a sizable population of channel catfish worth targeting, as well as yellow perch, largemouth bass, northern pike, walleyes and black bullhead. A handicapped-accessible 1,000-square-foot fishing pier is conveniently located near a stone picnic shelter, playground and toilets, making it worthy of its family- friendly designation. The lake also has a concrete boat ramp. At less than one-half mile across at its widest point and with a 5-mph speed limit, Walgren is ideal for kayaks, canoes, jon boats and other small watercraft. Heavy vegetation late in the summer can pose challenges for anglers, but provide an ample forage base for the fish. The area also is open to hunting, providing opportunities for ducks, rabbits, dove and pheasants. The lake experiences occasional heavy use by waterfowl and other species, especially during migration periods. Visitors should note that access is allowed on only the western half of the lake, as the east half is privately owned. Travelers looking for a quiet getaway should try Walgren Lake. The only thing keeping them from getting a good night's sleep might be thoughts of that monster. ■

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