Chadron State Park is the place to be June 11 and 12, for the Centennial Birthday Bash.The fun gets started on Friday, June 11, from 5-10 p.m., with plenty of food vendors alongside a beer and wine garden. Live music will be provided by Bar Flies, and a laser light show will cap off the evening at 10 p.m.
Saturday, June 12, events kick off at 8 a.m. with a Run for the Hills 5K and 10K. The food vendors will also be open again, as well as the beer and wine garden and plenty of craft vendors. Be sure to take advantage of the lake area, home to paddleboat, kayak and fishing opportunities. Main events will also include a canoe regatta race and treasure dive.
The day also marks the grand opening of the new shooting range, and the park will be home to stagecoach rides, a bounce house, car show, archery card shoot, naturalist activities, a wildlife display, demonstrations of blacksmithing and Dutch oven cooking, and other games and activities.
More live music is scheduled for Saturday evening, as well as an encore laser light show at 10 p.m.
Of course, a park pass is needed for vehicle entry, and this year’s pass will also be a good reminder of the event as it features Chadron State Park.
“In 2021, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is celebrating 100 years of inspiring outdoor adventures at our state park system,” according to a website dedicated to the celebration. “It began a century ago in 1921 with the establishment of Chadron State Park, nestled among distinctive buttes and canyons of the Pine Ridge. Now, Nebraska’s 76 parks are top destinations for Nebraskans and visitors from around the world to enjoy breathtaking landscapes, unique wildlife, and abundant recreation opportunities.”
The park recently saw resurfacing of its 5.6 miles of asphalt roads, campsites and other paved areas in preparation for the event, but that’s just one highlight of the park’s recent and planned transformations that include upgrades to the disc golf course, electrical upgrades throughout, 25 additional 50-amp camping pads, converted from 30-amp, construction of a new shower house, improvements to the rustic cabins, including new ceilings, cabinets and countertops, ADA improvements to Cabin 3 and the Central Building, remodel at the Central Building, new siding on cabins, additional educational exhibits, new flooring, counters and displays at the popular Trading Post, and renovations to the duplexes.
Senator James Good, a former Chadron resident, wanted the park established. Though a considerable feat to take on, he teamed up with senators who were looking to pass a bill to pave a road out of Fort Crook. It was agreed that Good and other senators representing western Nebraska would provide support for the road bill if the eastern senators would support the bill for the park.
The park’s road system followed the cow trails that crisscrossed the area, saving the state from spending money on a survey and engineering work. Local merchants raised $300 for road construction, in a Chamber of Commerce driven effort, and area farmers and other residents donated labor. Community involvement continued to improve the park when the region raised $3,000 for the construction of the swimming pool and lake, according to Steve Kemper’s compilation of the park history. Chadron Creek was dammed and pipeline purchased from an abandoned potash plant in the Sandhills made the lake system in the park feasible.
Eight years after its inception, in 1929, Sen. Good purchased 160 acres of land adjacent to Chadron State Park, and when the state reimbursed him for the cost two years later, the park increased from 640 acres to 800. The Civilian Conservation Corp Camp was established in the park in 1933, and workers spent time clearing dead and diseased trees, cutting lumber, building new cabins and a picnic shelter, repaired the auditorium and improved the water system.
Senator Good passed away in 1937, though three years earlier the park superintendent position transferred to A.E. Spear, who died after two months on the job and was succeeded by his wife. She established a Transient Camp that year and laborers improved roads, parking areas, bridges, picnic tables, stone Dutch ovens and landscaping around the swimming pool. Mrs. Speer worked with Warren Olsen, an engineer and the superintendent of the National Park Service Camp, which followed the Transient Camp, to complete all of the projects, according to Kemper’s account.
D.C. Short became Chadron State Park’s superintendent in 1940 and created a long-range strategic plan for the park. The group camp was modernized and enlarged enough to accommodate 200 people, two double latrines, a Boy Scout camp, and new water and sewer lines were added as well.
Clive Short succeeded D.C. Short as superintendent in 1944, but served only until 1947 when L.M. “Jake” Snodgrass took the title. During Short’s time, however, the park increased in size again when E.P. Wilson and Jack Lowe negotiated a purchase of property west of the park.
From 1964-69, new buildings were added including duplexes for camping, the central building and added shelters. In 1989, Galbraith said, work began on the RV and tent camping north of the horse stables, completing in 1992. He noted there are 70 hookups for campers.
In 2012 the park was threatened by the West Ash Creek Fire. The park was evacuated and suffered plenty of tree damage but little in terms of infrastructure, in large part due to the backfires that firefighters set to save the structures and forest.
Kemper’s account also notes that the State Park Board was created March 18, 1921, to administer Chadron State Park and any other parks created in the future. The board operated under the Department of Public Works. According to the park’s historical marker, the law was amended in 1923 to move the board to the Department of Horticulture at the University of Nebraska. The State Park Board and the Bureau of Game and Fish with the Game Forestation and Parks Commission in 1929. In 1967, it became the State Game and Parks Commission.
Throughout the park’s history, its connection with the Chadron community was a key factor in its success. When Sen. Good passed away in 1937, his efforts to make Chadron State Park a community initiative were remembered in The Chadron Record.
Friday, June 11
5 p.m.: Food vendors open at the sports field.
6 p.m.: Beer garden opens at the sports field.
7 p.m.: Live music by The Bar Flies at the sports field.
10 p.m.: Laser light show at the sports field.
Saturday, June 12
8 a.m.: Run for the Hills, 1-Mile, 5k, 10k beginning at Overlook Road. Register at pineridgetrailsraceseries.com.
9 a.m.: Paddleboat and kayak rides at the lagoon; Dutch-oven demonstration and natural activities at the main picnic area; fisheries shock boat, trailer and touch tank at the lagoon; historical plaque dedication at the main office.
10 a.m.: Naturalist and raptor recovery displays at the lagoon parking lot; car, truck and motorcycle show behind the main office; stagecoach rides at the stables; bounce house at the picnic area; wildlife display at the picnic area; history and poaching trailer displays at the Trading Post; and Chadron State Park Shooting Complex Ribbon Cutting, which will be followed by free pellet gun and archery shooting until 4 p.m.
10:30 a.m.: Moment in Time group photo at the sports field, open to all. Those who participate in the group photo and stay for the 11 a.m. celebration will receive a 100th Anniversary commemorative souvenir and shooting range token.
11 a.m.: Welcome to the 100th Anniversary Celebration at the sports field; food vendors open.
Noon: Blacksmith demonstration at the picnic area; raptor recovery display at the lagoon parking lot; bison sloppy joes at the Trading Post.
1 p.m.: Dutch-oven demonstration and natural activities at the main picnic area.
1:30 p.m.: Car, truck and motorcycle show award ceremony behind the main office.
2 p.m.: Raptor recovery display at the lagoon parking lot; regatta registration at the lagoon.
2:30 p.m.: Regatta Race at the lagoon.
3:00 p.m.: Dutch-oven demonstration and natural activities at the main picnic area.
5 p.m.: Treasure Dive at the pool; food vendors and beer garden open at the sports field.
7 p.m.: Live music by Twin River Band at the sports field.
10 p.m.: Laser light show at the sports field