29 September 2015

Effort Underway to Acquire Rocky Ford for Public Use

Efforts are now underway to purchase some few acres of property at Rocky Ford, along the Niobrara National Scenic River.

The National Park Service is actively working to purchase the locale from a willing seller, said Steve Thede, superintendent of the Niobrara National Scenic River.

"A key focus of our Niobrara River efforts are to provide easily available public access," Thede said about Rocky Ford. "We want to provide free access to everybody to enjoy the river, including outfitters, others enjoying a personal float, as well as people wanting to experience their time along the river."

"We are considering all options," on the purchase Thede said, including any potential partnership with the Niobrara Council, Middle Niobrara NRD, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and even private entities interested acquiring a site that would provide permanent, public access to the river.

Funds to purchase the land, buildings and business consideration associated with a 25-acre site have been requested from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is derived from royalties paid to lease public lands for oil and gas extraction. There would be no tax funds used for the purchase, Thede said.

The proposal is only one of two submitted by the Midwest region of the National Park Service for the current U.S.A. fiscal year.

The property is currently the location of Rocky Ford Outfitters, owned by Kerry Kreuger, a longtime outfitter that has provided river access for decades.

There are already a few public access points along the section of the Niobrara River where most float trips occur, including at Brewer Bridge and at Meadville. Fort Niobrara NWR is a federal refuge at the western end of the section and is a popular starting point for floating the river.

Smith Falls State Park is located on property which is leased from a private landowner. Some public access points are located at Brewer Bridge and at Meadville.

"Rocky Ford is an excellent site to provide river access for Nebraskans and others," Thede said. "Visitors wanting to enjoy the Niobrara should not always have to depend on the good will of private landowners for access. Quality of life in the state includes this river. People should be able to freely visit now, as well as by future generations."

"We want to guarantee public access at this site in perpetuity," Thede said.

If Rocky Ford was publicly owned, there would be new visitor opportunities, including perpetual access during any time of the year, as well as new opportunities that could be provided by facilities where people with handicaps could get riverside to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Niobrara, in their own manner.

Thede mentioned some important features of the ford, as it is one of the unique rapids along the central portion of the river: 1) it has been called the "heart of the river," 2) Rocky Ford is the only major rapids on a miles long section of the river 3) it is an ideal takeout spot, and 4) it provides access to the most prominent last seven miles of the floatable river.

Owning a few acres would also allow an opportunity to walk about and enjoy the flora and fauna, as well as the river valley.

Information on the potential purchase has been discussed at the last two meetings of the Niobrara Council, with consideration of a draft resolution where NPS and the council would support public access distributed at the September meeting.

Thede has been superintendent of the scenic river since December, 2013, and still learning more about the special features of the Niobrara. "I look forward to visiting more sites along the scenic river, especially toward its eastern extent, and perhaps elsewhere along the Niobrara, including westward in Cherry county when not working."