Sunday, May 23, 2010

North Platte Area Attraction Tour

One of the most disheartening things to have happen when you're in the tourism industry is to overhear a conversation between a visitor and a local - the visitor asks, "What is there to do around here?" To which the local replies with a shrug of the shoulder and a roll of the eyes "nuthin."

It just makes us want to scream. We try to counteract it by offering a tour each year of the local attractions. We specifically gear it to the people on the front lines of the tourism industry, the desk clerks at the local hotels and the clerks at the gas stations (Do you know that gas station attendants are the number one source of local information once visitors arrive at a destination? And who is most likely to claim that there is nothing to do than a bored high schooler working as a clerk for his summer job? Scary.), but it is open to the public.

So at eight in the morning, we all boarded a bus at the 20th Century Veterans Memorial to head out on our tour. We would have liked to have filled the bus, but had to be satisfied with the 25 we had.
As you can see, the morning of the tour dawned foggy, damp and cold! Fortunately we Nebraskans take all kinds of weather in stride, so weren't too bothered by it. We appreciated the coverage of the tour provided by our local television station, KNOP-TV Channel 2.
Our first stop was the Railroad Museum in Cody Park. This modest little museum boasts world-class exhibits. You can climb aboard #6922, one of the centennial 6900 series locomotives made in 1969, the largest locomotives ever made. Also in the museum is the Challenger steam locomotive, the only one in the world on static public display (and one of only two left in the world!).

Inside the cars hooked to the Challenger are exhibits dealing with railroad history when the railroads were not only the predominant form of transportation and freight, but were also heavily relied upon for communication. The telegraph followed the railroads, but the railroads were the source of mail transportation.
This intricate replica of a steam locomotive was painstakingly built by hand by the father of the Director of the North Platte park system and is on permanent display here at the Cody Park Museum.
I have to make a confession at this point. When we arrived at the Museum, the gates were locked. It seems that the tour planners had rearranged the itinerary and our stop at the Museum had been changed to 8:30 in the morning, instead of after 10:00 am when they actually open. A quick call the the above-mentioned Director resulted in one of his volunteers making a mad dash to the Museum to unlock the gates and open up all of the exhibits!

Whenever you travel, please be kind to the people at the attractions you visit. Many are volunteers and most will be happy to bend over backwards to make your trip more enjoyable! Our thanks to this dedicated volunteer.
The next stop on our tour was the North Platte Area Childrens Museum housed in North Platte's historic Carnegie Library, right on the main thoroughfare, across from the courthouse and around the corner from the library.
The admission to the Museum is extremely affordable. While this (or any) Childrens Museum may not be a destination attraction, they are vital to offer visitors a "fill in" activity that appeals to another family age group, increasing the length of their stay and their enjoyment.
Our Childrens Museum offers a reciprocal agreement with more than 1,000 other museums nationwide. Membership to ours gets you in theirs and vice versa. If you are a member of a local museum, before you travel be sure to ask if it has this type of relationship with other museums. You might be able to visit other great museums for free!
As we find with a lot of people associated with museums and local attractions, the Childrens Museum director sees her position as her calling and her passion, not just her job. She is helping to strengthen families and right some of the wrongs in America today by providing a place where families can play together and renew their bonds. North Platte is a better place because of her dedication.
There were way too many attractions and activities within the Museum to show you every one, but here is the store and fast-food exhibit. Everything here is hands-on and interactive. The kids are encouraged to play and touch. You can imagine that the wear-and-tear is intense, and the Museum has a dedicated and hard-working Board of Directors who constantly seek additional funds and donations of material to keep it fresh and new.

I didn't show it, but the Museum has a peg-board that you press into and the pegs make an outline of the shape. Can you picture what I'm talking about? Anyway, this system alone cost $17,000! A few years ago my office funded a grant application for a life-size Operation Game. It was well over $8,000.00! So it's not cheap to operate a Childrens Museum.
Next we headed out toward the Interstate to visit North Platte's landmark Fort Cody Trading Post. If you have driven past North Platte on Interstate 80, you have seen this frontier fort. You should make plans to stop sometime.
The cornerstone attraction is the 20,000 piece hand-carved miniature replica of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show that is animated every half hour. As true to life as it is possible to make it, this display shows just what amazing logistics were involved in transporting, setting up and putting on the Wild West Show - and all this before gas-powered engines!
The Old West Museum has just about everything, right down to the two-headed calf! Now that's something you just don't see every day.
Fort Cody is also a Trading Post, as the name explicitly implies. There is everything you could want from trinkets and souvenirs to scholarly books and a wide variety of local products. Mmmm, the chocolate-covered sunflower seeds are a treat.
That brings you up to about lunch time on tour day, so I'll break here and continue in the next post.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

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