13 March 2018

Personal Tribute to Marvin Vanderploeg

The local wildbirds along the Niobrara River south of Valentine have lost a great friend. Marvin Vanderploeg appreciated many sorts of wild animals and acted with his family to establish a natural lands reserve. Marvin had a personal bird refuge to traverse and notably enjoy looking about a place filled with wildlife activities. When home, he kept a watch outside some windows where he could readily see and appreciate bird activity.

A favorite spot for Marvin to watch bird activity was from a comfortable chair in the sun-room on the south side of the house, where binoculars were always close-at-hand. Notable bird books were handy and there were other mementos of the years where various pursuits associated with wildbirds were his favorite endeavor. Outside the windows was a pond and bird feeder. He could watch the colorful Wood Ducks fly into the pond, something he said he especially appreciated. Other waterfowl were seen. A local herd of White-tailed Deer were regular visitors. Near another side of the house, grain was provided to the many Wild Turkey that roamed the valley. In the marsh near the river, Trumpeter Swan were a special breeding season resident. A pair of magnificent Bald Eagle have nested for years at the haven, and they are undoubtedly now actively protecting eggs nestled deep amidst the sticks of a well-known nest atop a pine tree.

Each time when talking with Marvin, it was a pleasure to visit with a bird enthusiast, especially someone that has traveled to places around the globe just to see some new avian species. During my first visit to the ranch in June 2006, he gave a personal tour of a place where land was being managed for the benefit of so many sorts of flora and fauna. Dollars were being spent to conserve land features, notably removal of invasive cedar trees and occasional controlled burns to improve prairie conditions. There is no known comparable oak-savannah forest anywhere in the central Niobrara Valley, other than at the floodplain terrace of the Niobrara River at the Vanderploeg Ranch. That is undoubtedly why there is a NRCS conservation easement on a portion of the property.

The Vanderploeg Ranch is such a distinctly unique space. River, woods and prairie are essential habitats. Many people have recognized this and came to visit. In addition to the particular records of waterfowl at the pond as kept by Marvin in his personal hand-written words in notebooks, there are details given in various reports about the ranch flora and fauna because access was graciously provided. Many visitors have depicted significant finds. I have never heard anyone have any disparaging comments about their visit, instead they have enjoyed a distinctive visit, because Marvin was such a gracious host.

A most recent personal visit was in mid-February for the Great Backyard Bird Count. I am thankful to have had a “final” chat with Marvin as he sat comfortably, while individually battling health issues, but could still see a variety of wildbirds visiting the taken-care-of feeders, where birds actively appreciated the seed feed. The best two birds of the day were Common Redpoll, actively eating at the bird feeder.

Because of a sense of awareness this ranch grew to and became a special space. As a bird enthusiast and conservationist, Marvin Vanderploeg represents a legacy so notably unique in the Niobrara River valley. This great American may be gone but he shall not be forgotten. I will miss the man because he so much appreciated the wildbirds. His thoughts, as personally heard, resonated to features that comprise an essential core of nature within Cherry county and the Niobrara River valley.

Tree cutters the Ross Brothers and Marvin Vanderploeg at the ranch. March 15, 2016.