Residents near Safari Park worry over increased traffic

Simmons Wildlife Safari was very busy Sunday as cars lined up for miles to view animals. (WOWT)
Simmons Wildlife Safari was very busy Sunday as cars lined up for miles to view animals. (WOWT)(WOWT)
Published: Apr. 20, 2020 at 7:44 PM CDT
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The spring weather has many of us itching to get out of the house. The drive through a safari park near Ashland is one popular destination. But some people who live nearby are feeling trapped.

Lee Simmons Safari Park is open to thousands of visitors who stay in their cars, but Saturday the traffic backup forced some neighbors to stay at home.

Allen Rose at Horseshoe Lake said, “You may get into town which takes a few minutes, but when you come back home you may sit there and wait two hours simply because you can’t get around all the traffic.”

The Safari Park and residents of Horseshoe Lake share the same road.

Jay Dempsey a cabin owner said, “We’re coming from Omaha so the cars will be backed up all the way down the off-ramp and it would be nice if they had some traffic control out here.”

Nebraska State Troopers didn’t allow park-goers left turns off the exit so some went down the road and turned around.

Nebraska State Trooper Jamie Thompson said, “Yeah we found that people going that way it just makes everything run a little smoother and keeps the ramp from backing up.”

But when troopers get called away, the exit ramp backs up. The line to the park grows and it’s hard to cross. Drivers take the shoulder to pass and one stuck in traffic gets out for a quick run down the hill.

Some residents of Horseshoe Lake have a safety concern. They wonder if that road into the safari park gets too congested, can first responders respond in time?

Patty Sell of Horseshoe Lake said, “I’ve already had one heart attack, somewhat if I happen to have another and no one can get through down here?”

But Ashland’s fire chief says traffic has been moving out of the way for emergency vehicles and there haven’t been any response issues. But some residents of Horseshoe Lake aren’t feeling lucky.

A Nebraska State Patrol spokesperson tells us, “NSP commanders have had good communication with park management and made recommendations on how to alleviate the traffic backup outside the park.”

Cass County Sheriff Bill Brueggemann said, “Changes may have to be put into place to lessen the traffic issues and we’ll work closely with the patrol.”

The Lee G. Simmons Wildlife Safari Park released the following statement,

"The Lee G. Simmons Wildlife Safari Park in Ashland, Nebraska, opened for the 2020 season on Friday, March 27, to an overwhelmingly positive response from the community. The Wildlife Safari Park has experienced record-setting crowds as it provides a safe, outdoor experience for people during the COVID-19 crisis. The Lee G. Simmons Wildlife Safari Park has increased staff to monitor and assist with traffic flow, both inside and outside of the Park. Staff have placed orange cones and directed traffic. As it has done since opening day, Wildlife Safari Park management continues to work proactively with the Nebraska State Patrol. The Wildlife Safari Park is also using its social media channels and email communications to encourage guests to visit earlier in the day and on the less-busy days of Monday through Thursdays to help address traffic concerns. On days with higher attendance, normal hours have been extended to relieve traffic on nearby roads. Due to the current COVID-19 crisis, the Lee G. Simmons Wildlife Safari Park is limited to a drive- through experience only until April 30, 2020. Several areas are not accessible by guests on foot including the hiking trails, Visitor Center, the Hands-On Corral, Eagle Aviary, and the Bison Overlook and Nature Play Area. The Wildlife Safari Park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m."

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