The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, Natural Resources Management Section hosted a Papio Lakes Master Plan kick-off meeting in May with agency partners and stakeholders to help consolidate several separate, older plans into one document for the Papio Lakes recreation area; the plan is available for public comment through July 31.
Due to pandemic concerns, the meeting was held virtually and included representatives from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, City of Omaha Department of Parks & Recreation, Papio-Missouri River Natural Resource District and the Nebraska Dept. of Energy & Environment. Each of these agency partners plays an important role in managing these valuable natural resources.
According to the event organizer and meeting host, Zachary Montreuil, a natural resources specialist with the Corps Omaha District office, master plans need to be evaluated and updated approximately every 15-20 years.
“The current master plans for the Papio Lakes in the Omaha metro area have not been updated since the 1980s, and are therefore very outdated,” said Montreuil. “Our goal in updating these master plans is to gather agency, stakeholder and public input to help shape the vision for proper land management and resource protection for the next 25 years in this document,” he added.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns and operates the Papio Lakes project, but the actual day-to-day management of these public lands and water resources are the responsibility of lessees. The Cunningham, Standing Bear and Zorinsky Lakes are leased to the City of Omaha, Parks & Recreation Department, and the Wehrspann Lake is leased to the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District.
“It’s exciting not only to see a new master plan being developed, but also to be a part of the process and more importantly to see what the people who use these areas really want,” said Brook Bench, Omaha City Parks and Recreation Director. “The residential neighborhoods around these popular lakes have grown tremendously over the last several decades and we’ve seen a significant increase in kayaking, paddle boarding, hiking and fishing – a new plan is essential.” said Bench.
Bench encourages the public to participate in the development of this new plan since they are the primary beneficiaries.
“This new master plan will serve as a guideline that will help our department manage the Papio Lakes and its recreational facilities well into the future”, said Bench.
The public can expect to see some improvements around Standing Bear Lake later this summer with the addition of more than one thousand feet of new trail, added to the existing one, which will close the loop around entire lake – also referred to as a ‘floating trail’, Bench added.
The Corps of Engineers Civil Works Water Resource Development Projects nationwide require a project master plan. This plan is the detailed land management guide that identifies what resources are present on the project's lands and how the Corps and land management partners should manage these resources. Some major areas of focus include - natural resources, cultural, historical resources and recreational resources.
Montreuil said that another goal is also to increase efficiency and combine the current four outdated master plans into one Papio Lakes regionalized master plan which will encompass the overall needs for recreational opportunities and balance this with resource protection.
“These lakes are heavily visited and there is a high demand for water recreation including: fishing, kayaking, canoeing, wildlife observation, in addition to hiking, camping and biking - therefore public involvement and feedback are important in master plan development,” said Montreuil. “The public can view current documents on the Omaha District’s master plan website and provide comments on what they would like for the future development and management of these areas,” he added
Feedback is also highly encouraged from community groups, outdoor clubs and other organizations.
Montreuil said that due to the Papio Lakes’ proximity to the Omaha Metro area, it is one of the district’s most highly visited public recreational facilities.
According to Montreuil, creating a new master plan is a lengthy process since it’s a detailed document that solicits input from internal agency branches and sections, partner agencies and the public, and it needs to be effective for at least 25 years.
After the initial public and stakeholder scoping and information gathering, the draft master plan is written and an environmental assessment will be conducted later this year. In the spring of 2021 public meetings will be held to present the draft and to request feedback; afterwards the final draft is written. Once complete, at some time around the fall of 2021, it will be sent the Omaha District commander for approval. Upon signing, the document goes into effect immediately and becomes the new operations and management plan for the Papio Lakes.