Mississippi River Basin

Central Platte River Basin Expedition Itinerary
(Part of the Greater Mississippi River Basin)
March 2017
Alison Jones, NWNL Founder & Director, with Carolyn Bowman as guest

Nebraska: “The Beef State” or “The Cornhusker State.”

The Platte River: called “Flat River” by native Plains tribes and French explorers

“A mile wide at the mouth, but only 6 feet deep.” — Pioneers

“Too thick to drink, too thin to plow.” — Forty-niners

March 20: Big Bend Area: Omaha to Kearney

Elev.: Omaha 1,090 feet (332 m) to Kearney 2,152 feet (656 m)

  • Missouri River and Iowa terraced farmland aerial photography
  • Big Bend Area: via Interstate 80 through Grand Island to Kearney
  • Overnight: Kearney

March 21: Sandhill Crane Migration: Wood River

Elev.: Kearney 2,152 feet (656 m) to Wood River 1,965 feet (599 m)

Sandhill cranes sign
  • Sand Quarry on South Alda Road,
  • Crane Trust Visitor Center, Wood River
    • Lecture: “Critical Status of Regal Fritillary in Central Platte River Prairies,” by Andrew Caven
    • Lecture: “Platte Basin TimeLapse: Photographic database since 2011” by Michael Forsberg
    • Meeting with Brice Krohn, Crane Trust Vice President
    • Meeting with Nicole Arcilla, PhD Lead Scientist at Crane Trust
    • Meeting with Justin Haahr, Wildlife Biologist with Nebraska Game Parks
    • View herd of 70 genetically-pure bison on 4,500 acres of historic prairie
  • Sandhill Crane Sunset Fly-In: from Crane Trust’s “Hill Blind,” on Platte River accompanied by Kelsey King (Crane Trust Volunteer Director)
  • Overnight: Kearney

March 22: Sandhill Crane Migration: Kearney to Wood River

Elev.: Kearney 2,152 feet (656 m) to Wood River 1,965 feet (599 m)

covered wagon

Archway Monument exhibit of “prairie schooners”

  • Sandhill Crane Sunrise Liftoff: from Crane Trust’s “Beach Blind” on Platte River
  • Great Platte River Road Archway Monument: Documentation of Platte River Valley’s emigrant trails (Oregon, California, Mormon, Bozeman Trails and Pony Express Trails)
    “Between 1841–1866, nearly 350,000 men, women and children headed west.”
  • Platte River from Observation Platform on South Alda Road
  • Crane Trust Visitors Center, Wood River
    • Lecture: “Cranes Worldwide” by George Archibald, founder of International Crane Foundation
  • Overnight: Kearney

March 23: Central Platte River: Kearney to North Platte

Elev.: Kearney 2,152 feet (656 m) to North Platte 3025 feet (854m)

covered wagon

Grain and corn silos in Cozad, NE

  • Lexington: Platte River and bridge
    • Overton Sand Mining Plant
  • Johnson Lake State Recreation Area
  • Plum Creek Canyon Reservoir
  • Tri-County Supply Canal: Delivery of irrigation water & hydropower via dams
  • Cozad on 100th Meridian: Irrigation canal, grain and corn silos
    • Green Apple Café: “Skinny people are easier to kidnap, so eat lots of pie.”
  • North Platte: Est. 1869, confluence of South and North Platte Rivers to the east
    • South Platte River (east end of town)
    • North Platte River (from Rte. 30 Bridge)
    • Whitehorse Creek and Platte Diversion Dam (accessed from south of airport)
  • Bassway Strip Wildlife Management Area (south of Kearney): sunset fly-in of cranes
  • Overnight: Kearney

March 24: Central Nebraska Prairie & Sandhills: Kearney to Burwell

Rtes. 10, 2, 183. Elev.: Kearney 2,152 feet (656 m) to Burwell 2,211 feet (674 meters)

Windmill for pumping rancher’s water near Broken Bow

  • INTERVIEW with Brice Krohn on his focus as Crane Trust Vice President
  • Broken Bow: Population 3,491, Custer County’s county seat
    • Commercial Square Historic District (on National Register of Historic Places)
    • Adams Land and Cattle Feedlot (Rte. 21)
  • Middle Loup River at Sargeant Road
  • North Loup River north of Taylor on Rte. 183
  • Calamus Reservoir:
    • Inlet Outlook
    • Calamus River
    • Gracie Creek Fishing Dock
  • Prairie Sunset above Calamus Reservoir
  • Overnight: Switzer Ranch: 5th-generation Homestead Act ranchers, now in eco-tourism

March 25: Central Nebraska Sandhills: Burwell, Calamus River Basin

Bruce Switzer, rancher and conservationist

Temperate Grasslands. Elev.: 2,211 feet (674 meters)

New calves at Switzer Ranch

  • Prairie Chickens mating and booming on their lek (sunrise, from photo blind)
  • Tour of Switzer Ranch and Nature Preserve: 12,000 acres
    Part of The Gracie Creek Land Trust, partnering with:
    • World Wildlife Fund (Sustainable Ranching Program)
    • The Nature Conservancy
    • Audubon Society ("Greater Gracie Creek Important Bird Area (IBA)")
    • Nebraska Environmental Trust
    • Natural Resources Conservation (Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program)
    • Platte River Basin Time-Lapse
    • Nebraska Prairie Chicken Festival
    • National Cattlemen’s Beef Assoc. (Regional Environmental Stewardship Award)
  • INTERVIEW with Sarah Sortum on local biodiversity and environmental sustainability
  • INTERVIEW with Bruce Switzer on adopting ecotourism
  • Overnight: Switzer Ranch: 5th-generation Homestead Act ranchers, now in eco-tourism

March 26: Central Nebraska Sandhills: Burwell to Omaha

Elev.: Burwell 2,211 feet (674 meters) to Omaha 1,090 feet (332 m)

  • Sharp-tailed Grouse mating on their lek (sunrise, from photo blind)
  • Calamus Reservoir and State Recreation Area and Dam:
    • Little York Point
    • Virginia Smith Dam: 1986 earthen dam storing water for irrigation — 31 mi. shoreline, 127,400 acre-ft storage
    • Calamus Hatchery
  • Burwell: Home to “Nebraska’s Big Rodeo”
  • Scotia: Population 318; Elevation 1,929 feet (588 m)
    • Chalk Building (on National Register of Historic Places)
  • North Loup River: Seen from NE Hwy. 22
  • Depart Omaha – end of expedition

Bird Blind Etiquette: SILENCE, no use of flash or camera review screens,
and lenses may not protrude out of windows.