Friday, April 27, 2012
One topic in particular struck a chord because of its implications for the future of Nebraska, our young people, and the nation as a whole. Richard Baier, former director for the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and now the Executive Vice President of the Nebraska State Chamber of Commerce and spearheading their Forging Nebraska's Future project, spoke, among other things, about Nebraska's education and workforce.
According to Richard, 30% of Nebraska's graduating high school seniors don't go on to college. Now here's another statistic Richard quoted: In the near future, 66% of Nebraska's jobs will require a college degree. I'm not exactly sure how the experts would say these statistics fit together, but in my mind, it underscores the fact that we need our high school seniors (at least a portion of them) to graduate high school with a marketable skill because not all of them have the need or desire to go on to college.
Nebraska's vocational education program for high schools is almost non-existent. There isn't even a college in Nebraska that trains teachers to lead a vocational education program. We are doing a disservice to those students who don't have the desire to go on to college, and we are crippling our local communities that need the skills those students have to offer.
In rural Nebraska, laborers, skilled and unskilled, can make a good living. In our rural communities, the local auto mechanic and construction worker live right next door to the local banker, accountant and lawyer. They socialize on an equal playing field - both are vital to the community. Their kids go to the same school. At one time or another they will probably share coaching responsibilities for youth sports. They probably go to the same church. They serve on the same committees.
Many of these skills could be learned in high school, followed by on-the-job training or an apprenticeship program. Or, it could be followed up by a certification program or vocational degree at a local community college.
Unfortunately, this approach is seen as "alternative" to a college education.
If we are going to continue to enjoy the lifestyles that all of America has come to expect - good roads, solid dams and bridges, electricity at the flip of a switch, new homes and businesses with plumbing, hvac systems, solid roofs and walls, we are going to have to accept the fact that skilled and unskilled labor isn't "alternative", it is essential.
Rather than penalize students who are attracted by the prospect of working with their hands by requiring unwanted and unnecessary classes (and the expense that goes along with them - just how much does a degree hour cost at Nebraska's two- and four-year colleges?), we could be preparing them to make a good living at their chosen careers at the time they graduate from high school.
No student loan burdens, no years of waiting before they contribute back to government (local, state and federal) with income taxes, property taxes and sales taxes, AND we, as a society, would benefit from having an adequate workforce to maintain and expand the infrastructure we all depend upon.
Organizations like Mike Rowe Works (yes.. the Dirty Jobs guy), Skills USA, FFA, and a host of other private and public companies and organizations are working to encourage and provide resources for skilled and unskilled laborers. It is past time for Nebraska's educational system to do the same.
There... my soap box stand for the week.
Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.
Monday, April 23, 2012
When I was a little girl, I remember my grandmother’s using a phrase that still rings true today… “Pretty is… is pretty does.” My grandmother valued good manners, good behavior, humility and friendliness, and those qualities are still valuable today.Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.
I had the opportunity to go out of town last week, and in the course of my journey, I found myself in a city that a few years ago was voted, “Most beautiful city in the U.S.A.” It really is a pretty town. It has picture-perfect buildings and well-landscaped streets in every nook and corner… Do you hear a ‘but’ coming?
OK, here it is. The most common complaint among those who live in this beautiful town is that the people are somewhat rude.
I personally met some really nice folks there, but I also can confirm that the general social atmosphere in this beautiful is not so beautiful.
When I first moved to western Nebraska, one of the things that struck me as incredibly wonderful was how nice everyone is. It was a part of the culture shock of my move… that people can generally be trusted and that they truly care about one another. I deeply appreciate the fact that they made me feel welcome even though they didn’t know me – and even after they got to know me. If you’ve lived here all your life, this may not make sense to you, but to someone who is looking for a new place to live – or just a nice place to visit… believe me… one of the best assets we can have is how we treat people… especially strangers.
Over the next couple of years, you may see a lot of things happening in our local towns.
Cleaning, repairing, redesigning, and other physical improvements are a good thing, but there is one other thing we can all do. Each of us can be our own ‘chamber of commerce’ our own representative of the community. If people are met with pretty surroundings but feel unwelcome, that doesn’t make the communities very pretty after all.
- Clean up projects are being spearheaded in Hershey, Sutherland and Paxton, in their own respective ways. We can each contribute our own efforts toward this worthwhile goal.
- Downtown revitalization projects are being considered.
- A new viaduct and pedestrian walk are coming in the very near future for Hershey.
- We hope extra visitors will be coming into Sutherland for the 75th annual Rodeo this year, and plans are being made for a special celebration.
- Extra visitors will be riding through all three of our local towns in 2013 for the Lincoln Highway centennial celebration that will also take place around July 4th.
My grandmother was right. “Pretty is… IS pretty does.”
The most beautiful tourist attractions we have are our people. Genuineness, friendliness, joy, peace, care and concern for others are the adornment each of us can wear from the inside out.
It doesn’t cost money, but the results are priceless.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
This is a lavishly illustrated narrative that takes you right to the heart of the Great Plains landscape. Fascinated by the writing of Mari Sandoz (1896-1966), British writer Alan Wilkinson had visited her home state a dozen times over twenty years. He read a great deal about the early days on the Nebraska frontier, but wanted to know more. What would it be like to live on the western Great Plains for a season? Could he still get a sense of what those pioneers went through, a century ago? When a ranching couple offered him the use of an hundred-year-old hunting lodge, built by settlers on the banks of the Niobrara river, he shook hands on the deal before they could change their minds.
The week after he moved in he was hit by an April blizzard. A month later his road was washed away by a thunderstorm. Determined to act out a part of the pioneer experience, he planted a garden. The first was wiped out by hailstones, the second by grasshoppers. He spent the spring and summer hiking the hills, exploring the riverside and digging into the history of the Danish immigrants who graduated from a dug-out to a sodhouse, then built the little red house that was now his home. He socialised with local ranchers, hit the bars and the rodeo, rode the range with Department of Agriculture surveyors, worked on the spring round-up and cut hay. In between he re-considered the life and work of his heroine, Mari Sandoz, re-visiting what remains of her home and camping out at her gravesite.
This is a thoughtful work, a lyrical appreciation of place that remains firmly rooted in the author’s elemental relationship with a unique landscape, one peopled with a cast of genuine western characters, living and dead.
Update: If you download the ebook on a regular Kindle (not a Kindle fire), you obviously aren't going to get the full effect of the wonderful photography. To accommodate those ereaders, Alan has placed all of the photos on a website, in the order they are found in the book. They are wonderful to enjoy on their own too!
You can find them here.
Alan Wilkinson has been a freelance writer since the 1980s, working mostly in non-fiction. He's written everything from TV soaps to ghosted biographies to newspaper features to company histories. He currently co-writes the Now Then Lad series (Hodder) with Mike Pannett.
I have downloaded Red House on the Niobrara to my Kindle and will be reviewing it just as soon as I get it read.
Thanks for stopping by. Download the book for yourself, pour a cup of coffee, sit back and enjoy!
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
The early pioneers on their way to California and Oregon found no trees in the Platte River Valley, and there were few trees in all of Nebraska. The poor pioneers used "buffalo chips" to light their fires at night, and settlers built their houses out of sod.
Above is a tree near Potter's Pasture that has been used for winter feeding by an Opossum. That just looks weird... how about Possum.
Now we have the largest hand-planted National Forest in the U.S. and the red cedars that choke the canyons are considered a nuisance.
Trees are an important habitat for wildlife. Above is a Heron Rookery just south of Jeffrey Lake.
I don't know if there has always been as much Beaver damage along the route of the Platte River that we generally kayak, but our March 31, 2012 trip revealed that there are definitely some "busy beavers" out there now.
Just look at the size of some of those trees they have been tackling! I also have countless pictures of smaller ones that they had actually managed to topple. I guess it's one way to clear out the excess trees.
Sunday, April 15, 2012
We visited the site just south of Gothenburg where a tree-lined berm that was the original 1913 route of the Lincoln Highway still exists in picturesque glory.
We heard from our Bobby Koepplin, the chairman of the Sheyenne River Valley Scenic Byway and Peer Adviser to our Byway about how to interpret the site, improvements that could be made, how signage should be handled.
From historic churches and frontier cemeteries, sites that can be recognized from diary descriptions of early Highway travelers, Oregon Trail monuments and Pony Express stations to
sites that are important to Nebraska's Public Power heritage, this portion of the original route is filled with "points of interest" that will be showcased to travelers.
Then it was back to Gothenburg and a stop at their wonderful Pony Express Station (they are the Pony Express Capital of Nebraska, you know) that attracts more than 30,000 visitors to Gothenburg each year!
Again, the visit was a learning opportunity, where our adviser Bobby Koepplin discussed interpretive signage with us.
Our meeting room for the day is in the wonderful Nebraska Salt and Grain corporate offices in Gothenburg. Not only do they have beautiful offices, they have developed an inviting meeting space that is used by the entire community.
Now it is time to go to work and make THE LIST.
- Update Bylaws
- Create Articles of incorporation
- Become a corporation under the laws of the state of Nebraska
- Develop 501 C3 application and become a 501 C3
- Create a Corridor Management Plan
- Start with a Sign plan and have it implemented by 2013
- Develop a presentation and "take the show on the road" in counties and communities across the 400 (or 450 or 500 or whatever) miles and 14 counties encompassed by the byway
- Inventory attractions, amenities and points of interest that fit into Byway intrinsic qualities in each county along the Byway - Archaeological, Cultural, Historic, Natural, Recreational and Scenic.
- Generate new members with the goal of a member a mile within five years.
Bobby explained how a point of interest or an interpretive site could be handled in the area. Further on is the statue of a soldier commemorating the flag staff on the parade grounds at Fort McPherson.
The Byway can be such a force for good for historical sites such as these, bringing like-minded people together to ensure that preservation and proper interpretation is done for future generations.
One of the major take-aways for me from this meeting is the power of one. As a member of the Byway, when I see sites that need improvement - mowing, spraying, painting, straightening - just DO IT!
Friday, April 13, 2012
We have a vision.
Actually, since the byway first took its baby steps back in the 90's as the 87 mile long "Platte River Scenic Byway" encompassing Lincoln and Dawson counties, we've had a mission.
However, now it's written down. It's our marching orders.
Unofficially, it is to be the transportation route of choice for travelers across Nebraska. And it's to be the best... the best byway in Nebraska, and the best section of Lincoln Highway across America. How's that for setting the bar high?
First, let me tell you about our meeting space in Columbus. It was on the third floor of the beautiful Evans House. Dr. Evens came to Columbus in the late 1800's on his way to a lucrative practice in Colorado. However, there was a smallpox epidemic and the town begged him to stay. After he imprisoned the priest who was spreading the disease by going from victim to victim, he nursed the town back to health, met the love of his life and settled down to stay.
It made a very appropriate place to meet, as the original alignment of the Lincoln Highway in 1913 passed nearby.
The mission of the Byway is to educate, promote and preserve the scenic and historic Lincoln Highway through Nebraska.
The Lincoln Highway Nebraska Scenic and Historic Byway’s vision is to inspire travelers and communities along the corridor to find value in the byway.Short, sweet and simple, huh? But they are more powerful than they seem at first glance.
Wouldn't things get better for everyone involved?
A little further down the road is the excellently interpreted historical site of the Gardiner Station and Bridge.
It obviously was the site of one of Nebraska's one-room schools and an important bridge along the Lincoln Highway. The Byway could help in encouraging the responsible parties to make the site even more appealing by adding gravel and adjusting the placement of some official signage that mars the "viewshed" for photography.
We might also be able to help by traveling the Lincoln Highway route with a classic car collection (I'll go! I'll go!) and creating a photo library of sites like this for use in promoting the route, the sites, the small towns along the way and the state of Nebraska.
Interpreting the important historical sites along the trail is obviously of utmost importance, and the Nebraska State Historical Society has done a fantastic job. This site near Central City is a great example.
The markers are well placed and interesting, there is a great pull-out and picnic area to give weary travelers an opportunity to get off of the road... that is, if you weren't rear-ended because the signpost along the highway telling of the marker was RIGHT THERE - at the entrance, and unless you were driving 45mph in your Model T, you may have rolled your modern SUV trying to make the turn at 60.
For the most part, the Lincoln Highway through the eastern and central regions of Nebraska (I'm sure the western region is fine too - we're just currently traveling the eastern & central regions) is in very good shape - the towns are quaint, a little dilapidated, but not too run down, the right-of-way well maintained and clean. Every once in awhile, though, there is the evidence of the changing times shown by buildings that won't be with us too much longer.
And now we get to the Seedling Mile - this again is the one in Grand Island. Without these seedling miles, the road probably wouldn't have been completed - they inspired investment and were vital in getting local support for a transcontinental highway - a model of how to generate excitement to get a project completed, I might add.
This iconic Lincoln Highway amenity has been loving restored by the SAME FAMILY (now on the 5th generation) that has owned it since the 1920's. Oh, the stories they can tell! Plus they serve delicious Italian food and are wonderfully warm and welcoming. Make it a point to stop if you're traveling the highway.
Like this photograph taken at Central City, Nebraska on October 8, 1913 - where the official proclamation creating the Lincoln Highway and declaring the route was signed.
And a collection of historic signs like this one that was placed by the Automobile Club of Southern California in 1915, marking the route from coast to coast.
By this time it's nearing the end of a long day, and a storm front is moving through. We managed to reach our hotel in Gothenburg (the excellent Comfort Inn) before any real weather hit.
Thursday, April 12, 2012
- 2.7 million dollar project
- 2 county governments
- 4 municipalities
- 9 state & federal agencies
- 40 interpretive panels
- 10 map kiosks
The first day of our gathering, we met at the Clarion hotel and Wilderness Conference Center in Fremont, one of the eastern-most towns along the byway. The Lincoln Highway Scenic and Historic Byway in Nebraska is 400 miles long... or 450 miles long... or 500 miles long. We're not really sure!
What we are sure of, is that the Byway can be a driving force behind economic development and tourism visitation in the rural areas and small towns through which it passes. Similar to our counterpart in North Dakota (though it has national designation and we do not), our byway can help to improve the "product" along the byways - the historic sites, recreation areas, attractions and events. This will help the other product - the private owners of restaurants, gas stations, hotels, as they begin to see the impact of more visitors traveling the byway.
A good example of how the byway can "take charge" of improving the product is the Fremont Lakes State Recreation Area. This beautiful site has a wonderful interpretive sign telling the story of the Great Platte River Road. However, the entrance isn't all that inviting, the historical marker notification signage isn't placed properly for a 60 mph heavily traveled road.
There needs to be a more inviting area to stop and read the interpretive panel, and there is a lot of sign clutter at the entrance to the SRA. All of these could be addressed by the byway, either using volunteers to do it ourselves, or a little gentle encouragement to the superintendent of the area.
The same was true at many of the sites we passed on the way to Fremont. Historical markers with inadequate signage, small or no turnouts, small towns whose dilapidated buildings are on the verge of becoming eyesores.
Of course, as with any gathering of tourism folks, it isn't all work and no play. After all, we're all about play! Right along the historic 1913 route of the byway through Columbus is Duster's, in the historic Gottberg Motor Company Building. We enjoyed a delicious dinner there, as well as a sampler of the microbrew offerings from the Gottberg Brewing Company housed in the same building.
And since that wasn't enough, some of us hardy souls made us way over to Glur's Tavern - the oldest continuously operating tavern west of the Mississippi! Now that's definitely a unique attraction along the byway - and they have a good selection of Nebraska microbrew beers too!
It was founded in either 1876 or 1879 - no one seems to be too sure of the exact dates, but as you can see, little has changed over time. Still a local gathering place for old friends, business people and visitors. Word has it that Buffalo Bill once stepped up to the bar and slapped down a $100 gold piece and told everyone to drink until it was gone.
This final photo was taken on our way to Fremont the morning of the meeting. It is the historical marker for Grand Island's "seedling" mile, the second to be completed across the entire transcontinental route of the highway in 1915.
It's quite an accomplishment made by people with vision and a willingness to work very, very hard. Let's continue that work by making the Lincoln Highway Scenic and Historic Byway a route that is traveled by thousands each year.