Lower Elkhorn NRD Recreational Opportunities a Draw in Northeast Nebraska

Lower Elkhorn NRD Recreational Opportunities a Draw in Northeast Nebraska


NORFOLK, Nebraska - Planning to stay close to home this summer? You’re never far from a public outdoor recreation area. Many of these trails, lakes, parks, and wildlife areas are built and maintained by Nebraska’s Natural Resources Districts (NRDs).

If you’re reading this, it’s safe to say you probably live within the boundaries of the Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District (LENRD) in northeast Nebraska. As one of the 23 districts across the state, the LENRD has 12 responsibilities, from the State Legislature, to protect our natural resources. One of these responsibilities includes the development and management of recreational and park facilities.

Most LENRD projects are developed for multiple purposes, often combining flood control structures with recreation, wildlife habitat enhancement, soil erosion and sediment control, or wetland renovation along rivers and streams.

In the LENRD, there are 3 recreation areas waiting for you to enjoy! The Maskenthine Project was constructed by the LENRD in 1975-76 for flood control and recreation. It was the first major flood control project in the Elkhorn River Basin and the first to receive a grant from the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission Water Development Fund. The 100-surface acre lake filled rapidly with snow melt and early spring rains and was opened to the public in 1979.

Maskenthine Lake is located ten miles east of Norfolk in the rolling hills of north-central Stanton County. The dam protects the town of Stanton from flooding. The area is 740 acres in size, providing many recreational opportunities – camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, swimming, mountain bike trail, disc golf course, and winter sports, including a sledding hill, and warming shed. No park permit is required to enter the recreation area because it is owned and managed by the LENRD.

Curt Becker, LENRD Projects Manager, said, “The flood protection that this area provides is its largest value, but the quality of life it provides the visitors comes in at a close second.  The area is over 43 years old with established trees for plenty of shade.  An arboretum exists on the east side of the lake and encompasses about 20-acres of mostly native trees and shrubs, with other tree plantings established for wildlife habitat, research, windbreaks, and beautification throughout the area.”

The camping area has 33 electric camping pads. Sites can be reserved for $25 per night at with some pads still available as first-come, first-served. Tent camping is $10 per night.

Becker said, “If you like to go mountain biking, you’ll appreciate the trail we have at Maskenthine.  It’s one of a kind in this area and is ranked as one of the top mountain bike trails in the state.”  The trail is home for the annual race of the Nebraska Cycling League. This year the event will take place on Sept. 24-25, 2022, with the title “Still Feeling Fine at Maskenthine.”

The Willow Creek State Recreation Area (SRA) draws its name from the meandering stream that feeds the Elkhorn River in northeast Nebraska. Located southwest of Pierce, this scenic area covers 1,600 acres, including a 700-acre flood-control reservoir, protecting the town of Pierce and downstream landowners to just north of Norfolk.

Becker added, “The dam did its job during the flood of 2019. Without the protection from this project, the flood-control channel at Norfolk could have gone out of its banks, creating further devastation. This project potentially saved millions of dollars in damages for downstream landowners that day.”

The area is owned by the LENRD and managed by the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission; therefore, a state park permit is required to enter the area.

The campground offers 30-amp and 50-amp sites with shower house and laundry facilities. There are 124 campsites available, half of which may be reserved at or by calling 402-471-1414. Included are 10 overnight equestrian sites with electricity and individual pens that complement the extensive mowed trail system welcoming horse riders. Stays are limited to 14 days in a 30-day period. Camper pads are $25 per night, tent camping is $10 per night. A swimming beach and sand volleyball court are located near the campground.  The recreation area was paved in 2009.

The William J. Meyer Recreational Trail is a scenic 11-mile hiking/biking trail that circles the reservoir and connects to the city of Pierce.  Becker said, “The trail is named after former LENRD Board Member, Bill Meyer, who resides in Pierce and enjoys using the trail with his family. Meyer was a member of the board for 40 years and was instrumental in the development of the area in the early 1980s.”

The reservoir attracts anglers and boaters. The main body of the lake is open to all boating and water skiing, while the wooded west end (about half the lake surface) is restricted to 5 mph, no-wake boating. Willow Creek is a relatively shallow, turbid lake with a maximum depth of 30 feet with little or no aquatic vegetation present. Primary fish species for anglers include crappie, walleye, and channel catfish along with some largemouth bass, bluegill, and wipers. Common carp offer ample opportunity for archery anglers. There are nine, rock breakwaters with crushed rock surfacing that allow for excellent fishing opportunities.

Becker added, “Water quality is an important issue that we deal with daily. Our board and staff are committed to supporting conservation efforts throughout the Willow Creek Watershed. An Improvement Project was formulated to bring more Best Management Practices (BMPs) into the area to provide better water quality, not only at the reservoir, but throughout the watershed.”

If you’re looking for another place, close to home, to take your family for the weekend, check out the Maple Creek Recreation Area, nestled in the hilly terrain of Colfax County. The dam is located just northwest of the Colfax County fairgrounds on the edge of Leigh. The flood control dam protects the fairgrounds and the village of Leigh as well as downstream landowners. Maple Creek opened to the public for recreation in 2011. No park permit is required for entry because the area is owned and managed by the LENRD.

The area accommodates fifty 50-amp RV camping sites and 10 primitive tent sites. The campsites are $25 per night, and the tent camping is $10.  Reservations can be made at The beach area is very popular, with picnic and playground areas nearby.

The hiking/biking trail covers 2.36 miles around the area. This unique trail crosses under Highway 91. Horse riding trails are north of the highway with a parking lot for trailers.

The Nebraska Game & Parks Commission stocks and monitors the fish population of the lake. Channel catfish, northern pike, and walleye are some of the species present in the lake, along with largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, and yellow perch. Boating is allowed in most areas of the lake with a 5 mph, no wake regulation. Hunting is allowed in areas 200 yards from any facility (campground, beach, boat dock, etc.).

Still looking for s’more? Julie Wragge, LENRD Information & Education Specialist, said, “Our educational events offer more opportunities to experience our local recreation areas. Our Stars, Strolls, & S’mores events are held at different locations each year and provide hands-on learning sessions, and of course, s’mores around a campfire.” 

The next event will be held July 13,  at 7:30 p.m. at the Elkhorn Valley Museum/Verges Park in Norfolk. A night of storytelling and cave exploring is planned. Night Sky Ecology will be the focus of the evening.

Nebraska’s NRDs continue to invest and improve more than 80 recreation areas across the state. Find one near you by visiting: