Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area
Picturesque wilderness, Wildcat Hills SRA encompass 761 acres of rugged rock buttes and pine-covered canyons, 10 miles S of Gering. It is also home to an extraordinary Nature-Visitor Center. It is open 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily April-September and 8-4:30 Monday-Friday October-March (closed weekends). Facilities: Picnic tables, shelters, water, vault toilets, hiking trails and 30 non-pad campsites.
The Game and Parks Commission acquired the initial Wildcat Hills tract in 1929, and the picnic area was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Depression era . Nearly all of the buildings and facilities on the area, with the exception of the new nature center, are built of native stone, quarried nearby. Wood for roofs, bridges and benches came from logs cut on the area.
In 1980, the Commission acquired the 79-acre Reavis tract along the north edge of the recreation area a valuable addition since foot trails laid out by CCC and WPA workers extend onto the tract and the area had not been grazed in several years. Three stone shelters are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The larger group shelter has fireplaces in each end and can accommodate about 40 people comfortably. The two smaller shelters each have a picnic table and fireplace and are ideal for family outings. Picnic tables and fire grates are scattered throughout the area, and drinking water is available. Vault toilets are provided at two sites.
In October 1995 The new Wilcat Hills Nature Center was opened. The construction of the Nature Center was a colaborative effort between a group of local civic and educational leaders and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Funding for the new Nature Center was made possible by combining monies from the Commission and donations from the Nature Center Committee, the Scottsbluff-Gering United Chamber of Commerce and the Oregon Trail Community Foundation.
The center's split-level design takes advantage of the hilltop location with little intrusion on the scenic site, and the building's windows are deeply tinted so visitors can closely observe birds and other wildlife coming from the forest to use feeders and plantings along the building's north side. Windows and observation decks extending along the building's north and east sides overlook the pine forest and the North Platte Valley and Scotts Bluff National Monument.
A reception and display room feature a dramatic, 27-foot-tall artificial ponderosa pine tree extending from the center's lower level up through an opening to the ceiling of the top floor. The artificial tree will hold a continually changing assortment of life-size mounts of species that live on or in the, Wildcat Hills forest, and a self-guided audio program will provide additional information about the display.
The center's classroom has an interactive bird identification computer system. The center's classroom can accommodate about 60 students.
In the lower-level display area, a landscape mural by Gering artist Mary Hunt covers the south wall and the staircase to the upper floor. The mural blends into an artificial rock outcrop with several wildlife mounts. The mural depicts a Wildcat Hills scene from the nearby Buffalo Creek Wildlife Management Area and includes a creek, a small marsh and a mixed ponderosa pine forest-and-grasslands vista extending to distant rocky bluffs. A hawk, a vulture and an eagle circle above the scene, and the mural depicts an assortment of other birds, mammals, reptiles, flowers and other plants and animals common in the Wildcat Hills.
Near the mural is an interactive computer display featuring endangered species and neotropical birds. Many of the 350 species of neotropical birds, species that winter in Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America, migrate through Nebraska. The neotropicals are in decline as habitat is lost and degraded and as threats from nest parasitism and predation grow. Using the computer's touch screen, visitors can learn about individual species and view maps of their migration routes extending as far south as the southern tip of South America. The computer's sound system reproduces the songs of birds common to Nebraska. The lower level also includes a live bee colony.
There is no designated camping area at Wildcat, although primitive camping is allowed on several grassed parking areas and at smaller, near-level sites along the interior trail roads. The "summit" access road is not accessible for large RVs, vehicles towing larger camping trailers or boat trailers, since the turnaround is extremely sharp. That road entrance is well-marked.
A playground with swings, teeter-totter and merry-go-round is located below several picnic sites on the east access road. Most of the picnic sites are the North Platte River Valley. After sunset, the lights of Scottsbluff, Gering and river valley farms add their sparkle to the dusk-reddened rock outcroppings.
Hiking is a popular year-round activity at Wildcat. More than three miles of nature trails wind through the canyons and rocky bluffs, with four main trailheads and foot bridges on three trails. The primary trail is located below the large shelterhouse and is accessible to hikers of all ages and abilities. However, some of the side trails have steep grades. Lowlanders should bear in mind that elevations in the Hills" approach 5,000 feet in some areas and the altitude can affect breathing and stamina. Foot bridges, a rain shelter add to the hiker's enjoyment. The interior access roads and part benches along the way of the foot trails provide excellent opportunities for crosscountry skiing when snow conditions are right.
Whatever the time of year, visitors will find a variety of wildlife, including both mule deer and whitetails. Much of the recreation area is covered by stands of mountain mahogany (Cercocazpus), found only rarely in the Wildcats or the Pine Ridge in northwestern Nebraska. Mountain mahogany's flowers lack petals, but the plant's characteristic feathery plumes create a blooming effect in late spring, especially in the slanting light of early morning or late afternoon. Other prominent plants include yucca, cedar, currant, a variety of spring wildflowers and poison ivy.
Wildcat Hills is a 705 acre tract of land in the Pine Ridge area. This area offers primitive camping, nature center, and hiking.