A misty morning morphed into a mild Saturday in Nebraska and Iowa's crowded state parks and recreation areas.
The Memorial Day weekend launches the summer season in the parks, and gray sky held temperatures well below 80 degrees through most of the region.
At Platte River State Park in eastern Nebraska, Sue Morse approved. It rained as she and her family spent Friday night in their pop-up camper and it drizzled Saturday morning.
“Now look at it,” she said in the afternoon. “It's beautiful.”
The weekend in the parks provided several themes. High river water caused concern in some of the state parks. This is the first year in many that people can consume alcoholic beverages in Nebraska state parks.
And most parks had people aplenty.
Camping spots in western Iowa were hard to come by. Campgrounds at Lewis and Clark State Park near Onawa, for instance, had no vacancies. “Yep, we are full,” said Jeff Poen, park ranger there. “Everything's occupied.”
Lake Anita and Lake Manawa State Parks campgrounds also were among those in western Iowa fully booked for Sunday evening, according to the reservations center.
Louisville State Recreation Area in eastern Nebraska was packed with campers and fishermen, dogs and geese, bicyclists and at least one hula-hooper.
“Watch this,” said 8-year-old Rayonna Hansen, hopping as she hooped. Moments later, she spun the hula hoop around her neck.
Her father, Jason Shadden, expressed satisfaction that he had procured a plum spot for his two tents. His plot sat near a neat grassy tongue that licked the lake.
“I caught, like, two fishes,” said his 7-year-old nephew, Devyne Shadden, also of Omaha.
Jason Shadden pulled out a beer. “It's so cool seeing that sign over there saying you can have a few drinks,” Shadden said.
High rivers created some inconveniences.
The boat dock at Indian Cave State Park in southeast Nebraska was closed because of the swollen Missouri River. About 40 camping plots had to be moved late last week at Two Rivers State Recreation Area in eastern Nebraska because the Platte River lapped over its banks.
Mike Carrick, superintendent at Two Rivers, said that Friday night, he had to ask people at a few camping sites to turn down the music and follow the 10 p.m. cease-drinking policy. “That's what we're here for,” he said.
All of Platte River State Park's 54 cabins and four teepees were occupied. The park has just opened its Heritage Center shooting range for air guns, archery and .22 caliber rifle practice.
Employee Josh Bogatz showed Harley Coan, 9, how to shoot a crossbow at the new shooting complex. “Is the chair the right height for you?” Bogatz asked the Omaha boy.
“It's perfect,” Harley responded. He let the arrow fly. “Ah-ha,” Harley said with satisfaction.
Not far away, range master Ron Renner gave Sarah Morse, 13, tips on how to shoot a .22. “That's another good shot,” he said as she fired away at a target.
Sarah and her two friends, 13-year-old twins Jessica and Sarah Pfrenger, walked away from the range with holey targets, proof of their shooting prowess.
The Elkhorn-area kids were camping with Sarah Morse's parents. And while they were all enjoying Platte River State Park at that moment, they were actually camping at nearby Louisville State Recreation Area.
The parents, Sue and Steve Morse, planned to grill food and drink a bit of beer and wine in the evening. The chance to have a glass of wine with dinner only adds to the delight, Sue Morse said, for she and her family have developed their camping skills over several years in the parks system.
“Nebraska's state parks are amazing,” she said.
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