As it flows unfettered for a bit less than 100 miles across northern Cherry County, the Niobrara River is indifferent to the intents and purposes of the people residing along its banks. Property owners along the running waters, however, recognize that riverfront land is a valued asset which makes their property more valuable and that it can be sold for at a higher cost.
An increased valuation is apparent in the prices being asked for three distinct properties along the Niobrara which are currently available for purchase in the county. Each can be bought for an amount that dramatically exceeds the typical cost of ranchland property.
The properties are listed for sale by three different realty companies.
Heartland Scenic River Ranch
This parcel comprises 985+ acres, including about 3/4 mile of the Niobrara National Scenic River, upriver from Brewer Bridge, east of Valentine. About 265 acres are open meadows and hay ground, with the remainder hills and canyons covered with trees, according to the internet realty advertisement.
The property is currently being used as a guest ranch and elk preserve. "The main improvements" - located on the upland - "include 4 beautiful cabins, 1 lodge, 1 horse barn with office, and other buildings, including manager's quarters used for maintenance of the property," according to the online real estate listing. Kuski creek provides the water flows for three trout ponds.
A potential for development is included in the information given for the property, as it has "been entitled to allow the development of 21 lots, each 3 acres in size. Although these lots have not been surveyed, the plat has been approved and these lots could be sold."
"This property is truly a gem found in the nation's heartland," the listing says.
Purchase price: $2.4 million, reduced from $2.9 million. This is $2436.55 per acre.
Bear Creek Ranch
This parcel of 1,543 acres, southwest of Cody, includes nearly two miles of Niobrara River frontage, as well as the lower portion of Bear Creek where it empties into the larger waterway.
The tract is being marketed as a "get-away" retreat: "Your hunting and recreational haven awaits you. The property has electricity in place, water is supplied by present wells or you can place your own well at the building location you select. Privacy and the ability to build your dream home or getaway on the Niobrara River Breaks is yours. Spectacular vistas of canyons and the Niobrara please you at every point along the river," proclaims the marketing message on the internet. The parcel includes one center pivot irrigation system on the uplands on its south side.
Purchase price: $1.6 million. This is $1036.94 per acre.
Niobrara River Retreat
Southeast of Merriman - west of Mogle Falls - is the third parcel available for purchase. It comprises 760 acres, includes about 1.75 miles of the Niobrara and includes the confluence of Leander Creek. The historic legacy of the place is prominently featured in the real estate listing, with one amenity the presence of a historic cabin more than a century old. There are scenic building sites and abundant wildlife and waterfowl along a "broad river valley with wetlands shadowed by towering bluffs with timbered canyon breaks."
The tract is being presented as a "rare opportunity to purchase a large tract with land on both sides of the scenic Niobrara River. The size of the property may vary as the Sellers will accommodate the Buyer as to precise property lines," the listing says.
Purchase price: $1.2 million. This is $1,578.94 per acre.
Value of Niobrara River Land
Scenic perspectives, river access and other perceived values are predominant in the features used to market these properties. These three advertisements prominently feature the Niobrara River as a valuable feature, with each of the current property listings readily conveying this in a distinct manner.
A common marketing theme for each property is its development potential, with the purchase cost exceeding the typical cost of land bought for agricultural purposes in Cherry County, based on historic land purchases.
There have not been any very recent land sales along the Niobrara River in Cherry County, according to the county assessor's office.
Some relatively recent land transactions, do however indicate the comparative market price of property along the Niobrara River and elsewhere in western Cherry county.
When the Nebraska Department of Roads improved the Niobrara River crossing for Highway 61 south of Merriman, they paid the landowner $19,961 for 11 acres, or $1,814.64 per acre, in October 2006.
In January 2007, 4,456 acres at the same riverine locality was sold for $166,250 to the Shadbolt Land and Livestock Co. at a cost per acre of $37. This was an exceptional purchase, as it was a sister selling property to her brother.
One of the most recent purchases of a large sandhills ranch was the McMurtrey Ranch in the center of the county, comprising 26,332 acres, purchased in June 2007 for $9,584,848, or $364 per acres by R.E. "Ted" Turner, with headquarters at Bozeman, Montana. The 58,230 acre Fawn Lake Ranch sold to the same buyer in 2005 for $327 per acre.
The three small tracts available for purchase at priced a magnitude beyond what it would cost to buy land for grazing cattle. At a cost exceeding $1000 per acre, these tracts are not being marketed as places to raise livestock.
The Niobrara River and its valley environs in Cherry County, is obviously an asset. The natural settings it conveys will undoubtedly provide an ample flow of money to the sellers of adjoining property now and in the future as property transactions continue to change the pattern of land ownership along a river indifferent to being classified as a parcel of realty for sale.