The North Platte River Valley (NPRV) in southwest Nebraska encompasses Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area (LM), Lake Ogallala State Recreation Area (LO), and Cedar Point Biological Station (CP). There are several potential IBAs in the vicinity, including Ash Hollow State Historical Park and Clear Creek Wildlife Management Area.
The construction of Kingsley Dam on the North Platte River created LM, Nebraska's largest lake at 22 miles long, three miles wide, covering 35,000 surface acres. Pumping from the downstream side of the dam formed the 600-acre LO. The recreation areas surrounding each lake add another 5,800 land acres. CP, on the south shore of LO, is a 1,000-acre research site operated by the University of Nebraska. It is a mixture of cedar-forested canyons, rugged bluffs overlooking the Valley, and rolling uplands of shortgrass and mixed-grass prairie. Scientists and ornithologists have used the Station as a research site since 1975. Local birders have sightings dating back to the 1940s.
The large water areas and accompanying habitat at these two recreation sites have pushed the bird count to 313 species. The lakes lie near the middle of the east/west faunal transition zone in the Great Plains. Various riparian forests of nearby rivers provide movement corridors for both eastern and western species. An extended drought has exposed miles of shoreline at Lake McConaughy, greatly increasing nesting opportunities for interior least terns and piping plovers. Other species of state conservation concern present include American bittern, northern harrier, greater prairie-chicken, upland sandpiper, Wilson's phalarope, black- and yellow-billed cuckoo, burrowing owl, red-headed woodpecker, loggerhead shrike, Bell's vireo, grasshopper sparrow, dickcissel, and boblink.
LM is owned and operated by the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District, which uses surface water diversions and groundwater withdrawals to provide irrigation for hundreds of thousands of cropland acres in south-central and southwest Nebraska. Most of the land around the lakes is leased to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for public recreation. Camping, boating, fishing, and hunting are popular, as are the many beaches and swimming areas.
An extended drought in the early part of this century dropped the lake's water level to its lowest in history. The expanded beach areas have greatly increased the nesting of Piping Plovers and interior Least Terns. A public outreach campaign is in place to increase visitors' awareness of the birds and their nesting habits. Nesting areas are monitored and signs are erected to alert the public to the presence of nests.
Salt cedar is established at the west end of LM and will spread to all beach areas at both lakes.
CP is a working university research site with more than 25 buildings and other associated camp features. The site is open to the public by appointment or prior arrangement.
Lake McConaughy is owned by the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District, which is a political subdivision of the State of Nebraska organized under public power and irrigation district laws of Nebraska. The CNPPID was created to enable people of southcentral Nebraska to develop the state's irrigation and electric power potential.
The land surrounding the lake is leased to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for recreational purposes.