The attendees at the superintendent’s float on the Niobrara National Scenic River were residents of Omaha and Lincoln that had not previously floated the river, said Steve Thede, superintendent of the scenic river office.
The river section between Smith Falls State Park and Brewer Bridge was selected for the event as it is a distance that could be quickly traversed and has features representative of the overall river, Thede said. A favorite event of the outing was the “very impressive” sighting of an adult bald eagle that flew over the group.
The superintendent’s float during the evening on August 25th was held to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, and was among the first events sponsored by the scenic river office at Valentine. Canoes were provided by the Niobrara Council.
Locally, the Niobrara National Scenic River was established in 1991. It is an example of how one of the best places in the U.S. has been protected, Thede said. Efforts by the National Park Service are an embodiment of this principal, he noted.
Protection of the river and providing public enjoyment has been done while respecting private property within the park boundary, Thede said. This has been accomplished by the park service and Niobrara Council in cooperation with private landowners.
Important partners during the years have included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Middle Niobrara NRD and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. River outfitters and the Valentine Chamber of Commerce have also been involved and supportive.
We have learned how to better approach issues through a cooperative effort, Thede said.
Looking to the future, the National Park Services has “a commitment to public enjoyment and we have a tremendous opportunity to expand the visitor base,” Thede said. We would like to have the river be a “destination place where people visit for a few days rather than just overnight.”
There are other river conservation and management goals that will continue to be important considerations during the next 25 years.
Foremost, is the need to ensure water rights for instream flows, Thede said. “I’ve yet to meet someone that want’s the river to go dry. All users will have to compromise to make this work.”
A better understanding of the biological features of the Niobrara valley is one goal.
“We need to further explore and determine how unique the valley is,” Thede said.
Currently underway is an inventory and monitoring of wild birds being done by a NPS group from Rapid City. Studies initiated in 2015 are determining the occurrence of species such as buntings, grosbeaks and orioles present at the edge of their range and may shift due to climate change, drought and changing temperature norms.
Studies will also continue to determine how to retain unique plant species such as the aspens, and to retain the different habitats which have created a “biological crossroads.”
The park service will have to determine projects that can help fill in knowledge gaps, Thede said.
The success of the “superintendents float” as well as a night float earlier in the season, means the park service staff will continue to promote with ranger-guided trips. “We expect to do more during future floating seasons,” Thede said. “We would like more participants from the local community.”