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Highway project will wipe out unofficial access point to Dismal River in Sand Hills

Highway project will wipe out unofficial access point to Dismal River in Sand Hills

Dismal River

The Dismal River in Nebraska’s Sand Hills.

When people wanted the park system the most, the state couldn’t give them most of the park system, at least not early in the pandemic.

LINCOLN — The Dismal River, a popular Sand Hills stream for canoers and kayakers, may finally be living up to its name.

A planned highway improvement project will soon remove a popular turnout where vehicles could park and drop off watercraft for a trip down the swift-moving river, though a state official said last week that alternatives are being explored.

An outfitter who’s hauled hundreds of float trips to the Dismal said he hopes that something can be worked out.

“It would be a crying damn shame if we lose access to that river,” said Mitch Glidden of Glidden Canoe Rental in Mullen.

Jeni Campana of the Nebraska Department of Transportation said Friday that the agency has heard from more than one Dismal River fan who’s concerned about the plans to remove a pull-off area along Nebraska Highway 97 where vehicles could park and drop off canoes and kayaks.

Campana said that the turnout was never a formal parking lot or an official canoe access point and that a paving project on the highway necessitates an upgrade of the road and removal of the informal launching area.

While the department’s top priority is highway safety, she said the agency is trying to find another solution for those seeking to start a float trip.

“We’re trying to do the right thing,” she said. “It’s a difficult situation.”

The Dismal River, from south of Mullen to Thedford, has been described as one of the state’s most challenging canoe streams, as well as one of the most popular. Winding through narrow, cedar-studded canyons in the central Sand Hills, it’s a narrow, spring-fed stream that flows swiftly.

There are plenty of obstacles, such as barbed wire fences, downed trees, and stumps and rocks, as well as tight turns. And the entry spot along Highway 97 requires a steep climb down a canyon to the water.

Author Carson Vaughan once referred to it as Divorce River because of the hazards of paddling it with your spouse.

Glidden said he had spoken with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission years ago about establishing a formal canoe launch area at the bridge on Highway 97 without luck.

He said that without a turnout spot at the launch area, he will probably stop hauling float trips to the Dismal via that spot on the highway.

Photos: Nebraska State Parks

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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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