Thanks to a project recently completed by the Nebraska Park and Game Commission, anglers are sure to enjoy better fishing in a half-mile section of trout stream in one of Pine Ridge’s most scenic spots.
The renovation team came together in August to improve Sowbelly Creek, where it flows through the 160-acre GH Coffee Park, 3½ miles northeast of Harrison. The project, estimated at about $40,000, was funded by a grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust.
Anglers familiar with the clear, whispering creek and its picturesque backdrop of sandstone hills and pine forests will notice the difference.
Where once the current flowed only a few inches deep, it now moves over rock rapids and into pools up to 5 feet deep. At creek bends, anglers now find logs, rocks, and other structures that not only prevent erosion but also attract fish as top cover.
Al Hanson, Game and Parks Northwest District Fishery Supervisor, said the newly revamped section of the creek will provide an immediate improved fishing opportunity and should get even better over time.
“In a short time, the vegetation will come back and these holes will house a huge number of fish,” Hanson said.
The roughly 5-foot-wide creek is already home to a healthy population of brown and brook trout, and Hanson said future trout or rainbow trout releases would take advantage of the expanded capacity.
Another highlight of the improvements involves fences. Three new Y-gates allow anglers to access the entire public portion of the creek without crossing the barbed-wire fence. Signage has been added along the property lines to deter park visitors from encroaching on adjacent private land.
Hanson said the improvements were designed to withstand flooding, but noted that no one can be sure how they will handle such an event until it happens. The area is expected to be able to avoid an event similar to the one in June 2015, when 4-6 inches of rain on saturated soil caused water to rush down the narrow canyon and create a massive jam of up to 4,000 cubic yards of lumber in the park. . A cleanup effort was carried out in November with funding from emergency management agencies.
Coffee Park is named after Guy H. “Chick” Coffee. His wife, Ila, donated the property to the town of Harrison in 1972, the year she died. The property was developed over the next four years with money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund and donations. The town owns and maintains the park, which has picnic shelters, playground equipment, and vault toilets.
Sowbelly Creek, Canyon, and Road were named after a 19th-century incident. Legend has it that military scouts from Fort Robinson hid for days in the vicinity as Native Americans chased them. When they joined a rescue party, the hungry explorers were provided with salty bacon, often referred to then as “sow’s belly”.