I’m going to say it again. Somebody should figure out how to develop an outfitting and guide service to take advantage of the huge variety of outdoor activity within a few miles of North Platte.
Whitewater rafting outfitters in Colorado make their living from May through September, give or take a few weeks, depending on the snowmelt. Granted, a peaceful Nebraska river float trip may not be as exciting as a whitewater rafting trip, but it’s still fun, and an excellent family trip.
Irrigation season here starts in mid to late June and runs through late July or early August. CNPPID lets water out of Lake McConaughy to service the irrigators downstream. They post the outflows on a website in CFS. Anything above 700 at the Keystone Diversion works for floating down the river. Many different trips are available: Paxton/Sarben (2 hours); Paxton/Sutherland Headgates (6 hours); Sarben/Sutherland Headgates (4 hours); Sutherland Bridge/Hershey Check (4 hours); Hershey Check/Buffalo Bill Ranch (6 hours); Buffalo Bill Ranch/Cody Park (2 hours); Cody Park/Highway 30 (2 hours). Or you could do multiple combinations of the above for different time frames.
You could provide transportation, food, tanks, kayaks, tubes, canoes, even packed lunches or a bbq at the end.
It would take coordination – with CNPPID, the local irrigation companies, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, local landowners – but it could be very worthwhile.
Want to stretch the season? Talk with landowners about including a float down portions of the Birdwood Creek. It is considered one of the most stable-flowing streams in the world and is certainly kayak/tank/tube-able.
Want still more options? CNPPID allows recreation along all of its canal system, from the headgates on the Platte River east of North Platte through Jeffrey Lake and on to Johnson Lake. That is nearly 100 miles of canal, and it’s not your typical concrete-sided canal. Much of it is cut right out of the canyons. Why not add Stand Up Paddleboards to the mix? Because it’s used for hydroelectric power generation, there is ALWAYS water in this canal system – it isn’t dependent upon irrigation water.
There is nowhere closer than Lake McConaughy to rent boats or personal watercraft. Yet Lincoln County has three lakes perfect for motor boating: Jeffrey Lake, Lake Maloney and the Sutherland Reservoir.
Thinking about something a little slower? How about renting paddleboats for use on Veterans Memorial Park Lake or one of the other Interstate lakes?
If you don’t think this is enough to support a business, stretch the season by adding birdwatching – Sandhill Cranes or Prairie Chicken dances. You’ve got to be talking to lots of landowners anyway to pull together the water adventures, why not get additional permissions to do birdwatching?
Yes, you’ll need contracts, agreements, waivers, insurance. You’ll have to work out payments, bonds, liability releases, performance standards (just who is going to pick up any garbage left behind?), and you’ll need employees (that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Economic development?) but still… it’ll be worth it.
What about Outback Safaris? If you’re already talking to other landowners, and developing a reputation for doing things right, why not talk to some of the large heritage ranches in the nearby Sandhills or Loess Canyons for Jeep tours? You could be teaching ranching history and practices, bird or wildlife watching, or just sharing the scenery.
|Calamus Outfitters Jeep Tours by Alan J. Bartels|
My final idea is local transportation and tours. One of the needs we encounter every day is transportation to local tourist attractions for small meeting groups and conventions. If you’re going to have tour buses to transport folks to and from central locations for any of the above activities, why not have buses and drivers available to hire for local transportation? Naturally these vehicles couldn’t be used for any of the off-road activities talked about above, but they would be good for getting folks to the starting points.
Another local treasure that is completely underutilized is Dancing Leaf Cultural Learning Center. If you’ve ever been, you know that the earth lodge, geology museum, cabins, hiking trails and the beautiful views are definitely worth a visit, but they don’t get enough visitors to keep regular hours. Why? One reason is because folks don’t have an easy to get a group together to go for a visit. A local outfitting company would fix this.
|The Loess Canyons at Dancing Leaf|
Who would benefit the most from an operation like this – besides the operators themselves? The local hoteliers! Any time folks spend more time in this area, they have to have somewhere to stay. That’s why local hoteliers should be standing in line to invest in an operation like this, and offering their business expertise and contacts to anyone wanting to start such a business.