Omaha’s Standing Bear Lake rehab is nearly complete. All it needs is rain

Standing Bear Lake is getting a much-needed renovation thanks to Nebraska Game and Parks.
Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 10:49 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The parking lots at Standing Bear Lake in northwest Omaha were crumbling, the shorelines shaggy, and beneath the water, invasive fish were choking the native life.

It was time for the park to get a makeover, and the lake to get a good cleansing.

“The Corps of Engineers built the reservoir 50, 60 years ago and almost the entire purpose is basically flood control,” Nebraska Game and Parks Aquatic Habitat Program Manager Jeff Jackson said. “This project is enabling us to really try to enhance the recreational part, it really doesn’t do anything for flood control.”

That means people who like to fish the lake’s more than 500 acres, including ice fishing in the winter, get better, safer access.

But before the work could begin, they called on dozens of volunteers, many local fishermen, to clean up the exposed lake bottom.

“We really appreciated [the volunteers],” Jackson said. “A lot of old lures and, you know, that kind of stuff, but it just gave us the opportunity to really do this project right, and you can see that being able to draw the reservoir down has allowed us to really extend the boat ramp and get some things out in the basin.”

Creating more access along the shorelines, with jetties and shoals, will create a more attractive environment for the fish and those trying to catch them.

“We’ve done quite a few of these shoals, we call them vegetation barriers in the basin and the shells are really good for attracting fish,” Jackson said. “They’re kind of little bumps out in the reservoir. They’re about four feet high, and they’ve got rock around them. Really popular with our anglers.”

They’ve already closed the water flow out of the lake, and a small stream down the middle is feeding the high cattails and big green arrowhead, even the nodding smartweed.

But Jeff says no mowing is needed.

“We’ve had some questions on what we’re gonna do with all the vegetation that’s growing,” he said. “When that stuff dies back, it’s a really productive environment for our fish. So it really produces a lot of zooplankton and phytoplankton, which are the building blocks for our fisheries.”

And those fish, most raised at one of Nebraska Game and Parks’ hatcheries, will not include a single carp. Removing those invasive fish was one of the most important tasks in returning the lake to optimum health.

“The plan is to put bass, bluegill, channel catfish, and walleye in this reservoir when we get it done and it’ll be a much-improved reservoir,” Jackson said. “Common carp... pull up the aquatic vegetation. We don’t want fish that are destructive to the aquatic environment.”

Even the Boy Scouts have done their part, building some submersible bucket rigs to attract fish to feed and spawn.

The project will cost well over $1 million when it’s complete.

The contractor needs to complete the bulk of their foundation work, including parking lots, a wider boat ramp, a separate kayak ramp, and improved ADA facilities, but they’re expected to be done on-site sometime in November.

Once the contractor pulls out, the public can have the park back, even if the rain is slow to fall and the water is still trickling in.

“We started this project three, four years ago, doing some of the planning,” Jackson said. “We put it off, because of Lake Cunningham being drawn down (due to invasive species). We didn’t wanna have both the systems out at the same time, so it was on the board, but we moved it back a year.”