15 October 2010

Trust Proposal Would Fund Purchase of Snake River Falls

A grant application recently announced would, if approved, allow the purchase of the Snake River Falls and adjoining sections of the river in the northern sand hills.

Snake River Falls; picture taken July 17, 2009.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has applied for a grant of $2,417,000 from the Nebraska Environmental Trust for the purchase of a portion of the Snake Falls Ranch, down the river from Merritt Reservoir, according to a list given on the trust website, as posted in late September.

Few details are available at this time, but apparently the purchase would include the river from the falls, and upriver. This would comprise about 1300 acres, and about two miles of the unique river, according to staff of the commission.

Buying a portion of the ranch, through the proposal developed by the Fisheries Division of the NGPC, and partners, would provide public access to the river canyon and its blue-ribbon trout fishery. The agency wants to preserve the quality of the area, and would limit fishing to ensure a continuation of the quality fishing, according to comments.

Apparently a sportmens club, which is a partner in the proposal, would grant an access easement to the state agency, and also give a "right of first refusal" for purchase if their portion of the purchased property would be sold in the future.

The environmental trust will soon be posting a summary of the grant proposal, and then request public input into the proposed endeavor.

Pricey Property

Land along the Snake River below Merritt Reservoir is very costly, based on recent land sales.

Two parcels - 160 acres in section 28, T32N R30W and 40 acres in section 20, T32N R30W - adjacent to the Prairie Club Golf Course were purchased in April 2007. The buyer - apparently the golf course developers wanting to protect the view-scape - bought the 200 acres for $1.1 million, or $5500 per acre on the southwest extent of their course.

Another BELF tract of 24.42 acres in the northern portion of sec. 34, T32N R30W were sold for $122,100, or $5000 per acre on July 8, 2008.

The Snake Falls Ranch is being sold at a cost of about $3000 per acre, which is the appraised value, with an overall asking price of about $9 million for the entire ranch. There is no realty listing for the property which could be found on the internet.

Exciting Proposal

The significance of this purchase is obvious upon consideration of a map of land ownership along the lower Snake River, where public ownership of property prevails. This extent is predominant on a map, but the land is actually very remote and relatively inaccessible due to a lack of roads, and the occurrence of the two rivers and canyons which inhibit access.

Land ownership along the Snake River below Merritt Reservoir, and along the Niobrara River west of the Snake River confluence. Derived from land ownership maps for Cherry County, and with the greatly appreciated assistance of staff of the Bureau of Educational Lands and Funds.

On the western edge, is the McKelvie Forest, managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Lands around Merritt Reservoir are owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and leased by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Below the dam, the state of Nebraska, through the Bureau of Educational Lands and Funds, owns several distinct parcels near and adjacent to the Snake River. This property is leased, and used for cattle grazing and hunting.

The Snake Falls Ranch along the river, connects the public parcels into a contiguous tract.

The area west of the confluence of Steer Creek and the Niobrara would apparently be included in the "sportsman's club" purchase of the ranch.

Westward of this confluence of the Snake and the Niobrara, the BELF property includes two miles of Niobrara River in its largest tract of educational lands in Nebraska (comprising more than 7500 acres), then includes property never claimed and which is still U.S.A. government property, of which some marshland along the Niobrara is contiguous with McKelvie Forest. Another state tract then occurs, and just to the west is a very special state area, the Anderson Bridge WMA.

Purchase of a portion of the Snake Falls Ranch provides an opportunity to combine land ownership in a manner which will create a distinct and unique combination of public property with distinctive resources such as the riverfalls, lower Steer Creek and Niobrara River lands. Each with their distinctive resources.

Public ownership of the ranch property would provide an unique and perhaps "once-in-lifetime" opportunity to aggregate the Snake River environs into an area which extends from the dam at Merritt Reservoir, nearly to the Niobrara River. This is a unique opportunity to establish a protective corridor of the Snake River and associated environs, and to create a "world-class" setting with public ownership of portions of two distinctive rivers in the northern sandhills of Cherry County.

With a successful completion of the current proposal, it would be possible to trek - traversing property publicly owned or under easement - from Merritt Reservoir to the Niobrara River, and then eastward to the unique Anderson Bridge WMA.