Project aims to improve water and habitat at Crystal Lake

Project aims to improve water and habitat at Crystal Lake (NTV News)

Crystal Lake may be crystal clear once again, with work underway to improve the popular fishing spot near Hastings.

“Sometimes I'll have 15, 20 people up here fishing,” said Steve Heil, the unofficial manager of the park.

But the lake has dried up.

“It's kind of strange to see nobody here,” Heil said.

He’s the chairman of the village board in nearby Ayr.

In recent years, the lake that once provided crystal clear ice in the winter has been a little murky.

Heil said, “It would just overnight turn green. Hopefully with some depth we'll be able to have some water clarity that's all full of weeds.”

Eight years after the community of Ayr took ownership of Crystal Lake from the state, they're making big improvements.

Dylan Long, watershed coordinator from the Little Blue NRD said, “With removing all the sediment, that should remove a source of nitrogen and phosphorus, which is something that algae really uses to explode and take over a lake.”

Water has been pumped into the Little Blue River. The local natural resources district along with three other partners have combined for a half–million dollars to improve water quality.

“Hopefully this will help with the clarity of the water and present a little easier to catch a fish,” Heil said.

They'll construct a berm on the south end, creating a wetland.

Long said, “It's kind of a demonstration project on the benefits of wetlands, what sort of things they can do to improve water quality.”

The Little Blue NRD hopes it’s a showcase of how to improve wildlife habitat, while also adding new trails and fishing points.

Long said, “It's a great opportunity for us to expand recreation opportunities as well as demonstrate water quality aspect.”

Long said other partners include the Nebraska Environmental Trust, Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, along with Game and Parks.

Steve Heil encourages people to come out and camp, but the lake itself is off limits as crews excavate.

A contractor is making the lake deeper, while also improving the shoreline.

Heil said they also plan to add a new bathroom, with hopes to make the park nicer, even if recreation is limited this year.

Heil said, “There's some of my campers will be disappointed this season because they come to camp and fish also. I hope they continue to camp and use the park, that's why we do what we do.”

Those involved ask for patience. Folks won't be able to fish this year, but they hope to have the lake back open in time for next summer. And camping remains available.

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