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Funds raised from aquatic habitat stamp overhaul Nebraska's lakes for anglers

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Funds raised from aquatic habitat stamp overhaul Nebraska's lakes for anglers

OMAHA -- Eric Einspahr doesn’t mind paying for a fishing permit and the aquatic habitat stamp that’s included in the $38 price tag.

“It pays off for a better experience on the water,” the Lincoln fisherman said.

That $15 portion has helped the Nebraska Game and Parks’ aquatic stamp program finance millions in improvements since it first began in 1997. The program enhances aquatic ecosystems by implementing restoration techniques in streams, lakes, reservoirs and the watersheds that feed them.

In addition to improving aquatic habitat and water quality, the program also improves bank angler access.

The stamp program helped fund more than $8 million in improvements in 2022, the 25th anniversary of it bringing new life to aging waters.

It has generated more than $90 million for improvements to 137 water bodies across Nebraska since its start. Many were more than 50 years old and filled with sediment.

“We’ve been able to take some fisheries that were marginal or not very good and turn them into very good fisheries,” said Jeff Jackson, the aquatic habitat program manager.

Funds from the stamp are now paving the way for improvements at Standing Bear Lake in northwest Omaha.

Water at the 135-acre lake on North 132nd Street has been drawn down, and the Game and Parks is in the process of collecting bids to improve angler access on the north side of the lake. The boat ramp area will be redone, too.

The lake, which didn’t have a large fish population, will be stocked with bass, bluegill, crappie, channel catfish and perhaps walleye. It should be finished by mid-fall.

Funds from the stamp program have also paid for work that’s been done at Cunningham Lake and Louisville Lakes, two other popular bodies of water in the area.

Game and Parks built jetties, deepened the lake, improved access and built a wetland complex in 2006 at Cunningham. They returned in 2019 to remove zebra mussels and repair jetties and habitat areas.

Access was improved at Louisville, including wooden piers and shoreline access features.

“We’re actually going back late this coming spring and improving some additional access areas there,” Jackson said.

The Game and Parks often works with other entities. A project at Harlan County Reservoir in south-central Nebraska is receiving 25% of needed funds from the aquatic stamp program and 75% from the Corps of Engineers, its partner in the project.

Work will be done on Methodist Cove, which has been cut off in the summer as water levels dropped. It will be deepened and shoreline improved with a jetty that will hold off sediment buildup. It's in the design phase now and completion is about a year away.

Jackson said he hears few complaints about the additional fee added on to a fish license because of the tangible results.

One of the shining stars for the program, he said, is the $9 million in improvements at Conestoga Lake in rural Lancaster County, which was finished in 2019. Little work had been done on the 230-acre lake basin and it was filled with sediment.

The lake was dredged and drained, and thousands of truckloads of sediment removed. Rock structures and trees were added to provide habitat.

Fishing began to take off again in 2021. Trophy-size fish now have a chance to thrive, said Einspahr, who lives nearby.

Instead of just visiting occasionally, it’s now become a favorite lake for him and his young family. They also enjoy the camping improvements.

“It’s one of the ways I see the real impacts this program has,” he said. “The fishing is just better.”

Dean Rosenthal, fishe​ries administrator, said the commission takes great pride in the improvements its been able to make in conjunction with partnerships, volunteers and staff.

“We are committed to maintaining and improving fishing access for anglers,” he said.

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