Big Elk Lake and Portal Recreation Area Opening: Reservoirs Honor the Past and Plan for the Future | Sarpy


Two new reservoirs in the Papillion area are open for public enjoyment and recreation.

Many community partners joined the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resource District (Papio NRD), the City of Papillion and Sarpy County today, September 21, to celebrate the grand opening of Big Elk Lake and the Portal recreation area.

Both are flood mitigation reservoirs along Cornhusker Road, providing flood protection for Papillion and Sarpy County residents, as well as green space and recreational opportunities.

The grand opening was celebrated with a speaker’s program at Big Elk Lake, located near 108th and Cornhusker Road. The program included a cedar ceremony – burning cedar over charcoal – performed by Rudi Mitchell, the great-great-great-grandson of Chief Big Elk of the Omaha Tribe. Cedar burning and prayer served to bless the reservoir, named for Chief Big Elk, one of the chief chiefs of the Omaha Tribe.

Mitchell also read aloud Chief Big Elk’s famous speech upon returning from a treaty negotiation in Washington D.C., where he warned his people of the impending influx of settlers who threatened homelands and ways of life. Omaha life.

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The Papio NRD board of directors voted in June 2020 to name the reservoir in honor of Big Elk.

“Chief Big Elk is one of the most notable figures in the history of Sarpy County,” said John Winkler, general manager of Papio NRD. “He was fiercely protective of his people, but also known as a peaceful leader who valued alliances. Naming this flood mitigation reservoir in his honor – a structure designed to protect the people of Sarpy County made possible through partnerships and surrounded by acres of peaceful beauty and natural resources – seems like a perfect way to commemorate everything. what Chief Big Elk stood for. It was an absolute honor to work with the Omaha Tribe on this special project.

Mitchell said he was very happy with the recognition of his ancestor.

“Until today, there was no tribute to Chief Big Elk in Omaha,” Mitchell said. “Big Elk was admired for leading one of the most peaceful tribes through many challenges. Through his speeches, trades and peace treaties, Big Elk had a knack for bringing the settlers and the Omaha tribe together peacefully. It says a lot about the kind of leader he was and I am grateful that he will be remembered in a realm of beauty and nature.

Glenna Mitchell Slater, also a descendant of Big Elk and one of the few certified Omaha speakers and teachers, said she was touched to see the monument at the entrance to the lake bearing Chief Big Elk’s name interpreted in the Omaha language. : O-po-To-Georgia.

“I would like to thank the Papio NRD Board of Directors for accepting my request to place the Omaha Tribal Indian name of our Chief Big Elk to be translated under his name on the entrance sign,” said Mitchell Slater.

While the main purpose of the new reservoirs is to help protect citizens’ lives and property from flooding, each also includes recreational facilities including walking/biking trails, kayak launches /canoe, picnic shelters, parks and fishing improvements.

Big Elk is a 13 acre lake with an additional 46 acres of parkland near 108th Street and Cornhusker Road. The $8.1 million project includes non-motorized boating, fishing, 1.1 miles of hiking and biking trails, an ADA-compliant kayak/canoe launch, and picnic areas. The reservoir captures 470 acres of drainage area on a tributary of Schram Creek in the West Papillion Creek watershed, serving areas surrounding and including the towns of Papillion and Bellevue.

Portal Recreation Area is located nearby at 114th and Cornhusker Road. The $13.1 million project – named after the original one-room schoolhouse near the old township gate near Papillion – captures 1,270 acres of drainage area across its 34-acre lake and 109 additional acres of parkland. Recreational opportunities include no-wake boating, fishing on 2.2 km of hiking and biking trails, a kayak launch and picnic areas.

Both reservoirs were stocked with smallmouth bass and yellow perch by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

“In addition to flood protection, the recreational opportunities these areas will provide are invaluable to our community,” said Papillion Mayor David Black. “The Town of Papillion appreciates our long-term partnership with the NRD, and we are proud to incorporate these new areas into our network of parks. »

Big Elk Lake and Portal Recreation Area was nearly complete in May of this year. They are now officially open to the public.


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