Smith Falls State Park

A 70-foot waterfall is the main attraction at Smith Falls State Park near Valentine, Nebraska. The Game and Parks Commission announced Wednesday that it was reopening some campgrounds statewide in time for Memorial Day weekend enjoyment. Smith Falls is among them.

LINCOLN — The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission will open first-come, first-served camping Friday at Smith Falls State Park, 35 state recreation areas and wildlife management areas for all camping units, including tents.

The majority of state parks will continue to be limited to recreational vehicles.

The decision was prompted by overwhelming demand for camping opportunities, challenges in bringing additional park locations and campsites into the reservation system as planned, and public comments regarding the desire to camp even without normal facilities, which will remain closed. Those include shower houses, designated swimming beaches, playgrounds and park activities. A limited number of primitive restrooms will be available.

Park regulations allow for up to eight people per campsite.

The 35 state recreation areas that will be open include Alexandria, Bluestem, Box Butte, Bridgeport, Buffalo Bill, Cheyenne, Conestoga, Cottonwood, Dead Timber, Enders, Gallagher Canyon, Keller Park, Lake Maloney, Long Pine, Memphis, North Loup, Olive Creek, Pelican Point, Red Willow, Riverview Marina, Rock Creek Lake, Rockford, Sandy Channel, Sherman, Stagecoach, Summit Lake, Sutherland, Swanson, Union Pacific, Verdon, Wagon Train, Walgren Lake, War Axe and Wildcat Hills.

Mormon Island State Recreation Area near Grand Island and Danish Alps near Hubbard will not offer camping, as they are near communities with high COVID-19 incidence.

Game and Parks will open camping on wildlife management areas where it was allowed previous to the COVID-19 health emergency to help distribute camping activity.

“We made the earlier decision to allow limited RV camping, by reservation only, consistent with health directives that encourage limitations on crowd size and our current capacity to protect and serve the public,” Game and Parks Director Jim Douglas said. “We are pleased to be able to offer more opportunities on smaller park areas that typically attract less people.”

Douglas said busier areas such as Branched Oak Lake, Medicine Creek Reservoir and Lake McConaughy, which attract larger crowds, will retain RV camping by reservation only for now.

The health recommendations for social distancing and group sizes of less than 10 still apply.

“As we continue to be able to add needed seasonal personnel and provide for facility maintenance, we will expand further opportunities while managing within the constraints of the ongoing health emergency,” he said.

For the park locations in the online reservation system, camping will continue to be limited to advanced reservation at OutdoorNebraska.gov/reservations, and only for self-contained recreational vehicles. No first-come, first-served camping is allowed at these locations, and no tents will be allowed at this time, but expanded camping may be allowed in the near future. These areas are: Branched Oak, Calamus, Chadron, Eugene T. Mahoney, Fort Kearny, Fort Robinson, Fremont, Indian Cave, Johnson Lake, Lake McConaughy, Lake Minatare, Lake Ogallala, Lewis and Clark, Louisville, Medicine Creek Reservoir, Merritt Reservoir, Niobrara, Pawnee, Platte River, Ponca, Rock Creek Station, Two Rivers, Victoria Springs, Willow Creek and Windmill state recreation areas, state parks and state historical parks.

Game and Parks cautiously will phase in additional park services and amenities in consort with health directives and advice from health departments, staff said.