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The North Bend Eagle

Maple Creek recreation area
A bird's eye view of the new Maple Creek recreation area along Highway 91.

Lake on Maple Creek to provide recreation, flood control

Published 6/1/11

LEIGH – Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson helped celebrate the opening of the Maple Creek Recreation Area near Leigh on May 21. He called the site an important new Nebraska resource for outdoor activities, flood control and economic development.

“Since 1960, no three Nebraska counties have had more flood disaster declarations than Colfax, Dodge and Saunders,” Nelson said at the grand opening. “After one flood, Leigh Elementary School had to be permanently relocated to higher ground. And we all remember the extensive damage from the flooding last spring. The good news is, after more than 50 years, this flood control dam has been built.”

Fishing in the Maple Creek reservoirFishermen test the waters of the Maple Creek reservoir during its grand opening May 21.

The dam, built on the west fork of Maple Creek, created a 160-acre lake that serves as drainage for 6,800 acres in the Maple Creek Watershed. The lake, which is split into two parts by Highway 91, has a maximum depth of about 35 feet and has been stocked with large-mouth bass, bluegills, and channel catfish. Two boat ramps have been built to access the lake.

The west fork of the Maple Creek joins the east fork near the border of Colfax and Dodge counties. The Maple Creek intersects with Highway 79 about eight miles north of North Bend before eventually joining the Elkhorn River near Nickerson. Leigh, where the new recreation area is located, is about 30 miles northwest of North Bend.

The entire Maple Creek Recreation Area in covers more than 550 acres and includes 50 RV camping sites and 10 primitive camping sites; hiking, biking and horseback riding trails; a shower house and restrooms; a beach for swimming; picnic and playground equipment; and opportunities to hunt pheasant, quail and ducks.

“I’m glad that the people who live in this area will be able to fish with their children and grandchildren without having to drive very far,” Nelson said. “Considering the price of gasoline these days, having a local fishing hole – or a local spot to hike or camp – is more important than ever. I’m also hopeful that the Maple Creek Recreation Area will help spur economic development in this region of the state, as travelers from all over Nebraska and the Midwest spend some of their vacation dollars here.”

The Maple Creek Recreation Area is a project of the Lower Elkhorn Natural Resource District (LENRD), in collaboration with the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, the Nebraska Department of Roads and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

The project evolved out of a flood control plan developed by the county Soil Conservation Services within the Maple Creek Watershed in the late 1960s. It gained new momentum in the year 2000, when the Leigh Village Board investigated flood protection solutions for the village and land owners along the Maple Creek’s west fork.

Noting that flooding issues have always been a concern in Northeast Nebraska, Nelson joked, “Lewis and Clark passed through Nebraska in 1804, and Major Stephen H. Long was the first American explorer to reach the Elkhorn River Basin in 1820. Work on the original flood control plan for the Maple Creek Watershed didn’t start back then … but almost!”

In 1972, Nebraska’s Soil Conservation Services offices were combined with other land and water agencies to create the state’s 23 Natural Resource Districts. NRDs are local government entities unique to Nebraska, which help communities respond to land and water challenges with local control and local solutions. Major Nebraska river basins form the boundaries between NRDs, enabling districts to respond best to local needs.

The dam was constructed by Pruss Excavation of Dodge and is approximately 50 feet tall and located immediately west of Leigh - impounding the West Fork of Maple Creek, north of the Colfax County fairgrounds. The $8.2 million project will provide flood protection for the fairgrounds below the dam including property owners on the south side of Leigh, and downstream bridges and landowners along the west fork of Maple Creek.

The LENRD received a grant from the Nebraska Resources Development Fund for up to $4.1 million, not to exceed 55 percent of the total project cost. The Sport Fish Restoration/Motorboat Access Grant from the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission totaled $500,000. The LENRD will provide the balance of the project cost.

“After more than ten years of planning, we are pleased to share this beautiful area with the public,” said LENRD General Manager Stan Staab.

An estimated 1,000 people attended the May 21 grand opening. After a hamburger meal, activities were held out at the lake, including: games on the beach, swimming, boat rides, electro fishing, fishing demonstrations, bird watching, tree planting and a trail ride.

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