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07/25/16
Nature's Medicine

Mule deer at sunset at High Plains Homestead

 

Nature's Medicine
By Alex Duryea, Ecotourism Consultant, Nebraska Tourism Commission

It’s all around us, it’s something we can’t live without, yet most take it for granted. There’s a lot to be said about fresh air — it just has an aroma to it. Like water, it tastes different everywhere you go. Whether it’s the sharp cool air of a mountain peak to the thick, heavy air of the Great Plains, it has the same effect — healing.

It’s called "ecotherapy." Doctors are beginning to prescribe patients outdoor time: breathe some fresh air, go to a nearby green space, explore. While we're still a ways from picking up a prescription bottle stuffed with dirt, there's some interesting research being done on the subject. In a report published by Mind, researchers propose that ecotherapy can decrease anxiety, improve physical health and well being, reduce social isolation, and reduce the direct cost of treating mental health problems.

The benefits of ecotherapy may not stop there, and the practice could turn patients on to ecotourism as well. Through treatments, patients may discover a fondness of nature and become natural stewards, inclined to protect their remedy. Dr. Craig Chalquist, a large figure in the ecotherapy field, said in an interview in The Atlantic that the benefits of being outside can be felt in the body.

Spending time in green spaces is also showing benefits for children especially. A recent study by the University of Southern California found that youth with green space within 1,000 meters of their home are less likely to show aggressive behavior. Some researchers believe more green space in high-crime areas could help reduce criminal activity.

Whether or not you buy into the research, you can ask any nature tourist about the relaxation they feel while out in nature. For more amusement, check out this video from The Atlantic on ecotherapy.

04/22/16
A Nice Day Spent in Nebraska

By Erin Lenz, Public Relations Intern, Nebraska Tourism Commission

A theatre made for independent films, an art center that celebrates hundreds of creative minds, and ice cream that seems to take you back in time. All of this is what I, along with a group of University of Nebraska-Lincoln students, had the opportunity to explore on Friday, April 15th. The places we visited were Film Streams, Crystal Forge and Springfield Drug and Soda Fountain, all stops on the 2016 Nebraska Passport Program.

The first stop was Film Streams in Omaha, a nonprofit arts organization that plays indie, foreign and classic film titles. Now I’m not the type of person that typically likes indie or foreign films, but after touring Film Streams and having the communications director explain the different movies available, I can’t wait to go back. This theatre does fun promotions like free movies on Monday nights for students, the playing of a live score in the theatre during a silent film, playing movies on the old form of film projector and more. This theatre is small, unique and has a great atmosphere to it. It also doesn’t hurt that the people who work there have a passion for the theatre and films of all kinds.

The next stop on the list was Crystal Forge in the Hotshops Art Center in Omaha. Before I describe Crystal Forge, I have to talk about the Hotshops Art Center as a whole first. Artistic, fun, unique and lively are just some of the words that came to mind to describe this place. We were shown unique structures of the building, walked through rooms of pottery, wood making and stained glass. We even walked through an area where people were creating dozens of clay squirrels, yes I said clay squirrels. At Crystal Forge we watched the process of creating art through glass blowing. This process is not at all what I expected, which is weird because glass blowing actually involves blowing on the glass. We watched basically a small dot of melted glass turn in to a medium-sized, crackled textured, beautiful vase. It was a very detailed, but amazing process to see (video is below). I recommend going to this unique art gallery- it’s interactive and has a little bit of something for everyone. Plus it’s right off of the Old Market area where you could easily do some shopping and get a bite to eat too.

 

Lastly, we made a stop at Springfield Drug and Soda Fountain for a treat. This destination is similar to a small-town Walgreens, but with a fun addition of an old fashion soda fountain. This is my kind of stop because I am an ice cream fanatic. The soda was deliciously sweet and I think I might have drank my rootbeer float in a matter of seconds. Besides the ice cream, it was fun sitting up at the bar and feeling like I had been taken back in time. 

Overall it was a fun day trip. I’ve lived in Nebraska my whole life and trips like these help me realize how much more I still have left to explore. I can’t wait to go back and visit these stops so I can get an actual Nebraska Passport stamp, and I look forward to exploring everything else the Nebraska Passport has to offer (mainly the tour that is heavy with coffee shops because I’m a caffeine addict).

04/11/16
Experience Nature on a Bike
Experience Nature on a Bike, by Alex Duryea, Ecotourism Consultant, Nebraska Tourism Commission

A bike can take you places. Well yeah, they get you from point A to B, but I’m talking about mentally. When I’m maneuvering my Litespeed around the flowy singletrack of Lincoln’sWilderness Park, I am in a different world. I am surrounded by nature.

The trusty steed waiting for me to catch my breath

My bike has taken me to so many unique places in Nebraska — it allows me to explore areas that just aren’t accessible by car or would take too long to hike. Just southeast of Fremont, Neb., there’s some singletrack that butts up next to the Platte River called Calvin’s Crest. The area is full of whitetail deer, bald eagles, and even owls. There’s a section that runs right along the edge of the Platte; I like to stop there and just take it all in. I hear the wind rustling the leaves on old oak trees and listen to all the life surrounding me.

Crystal clear, spring-fed water flows down the Long Pine Creek.

Some might think that to experience ecotourism, one has to travel to some exotic country and stay in a bamboo shelter. That’s ridiculous. There is so much incredible wildlife and diverse ecosystems right here in the Great Plains to explore. Ecotourism is all about letting yourself experience the nature around you. Honestly a lot of us are ecotourists and we don’t even know it. I thought riding my bike around and stopping once in awhile to enjoy the natural sights and sounds around me was me just being a typical weird tree-hugging millennial, but I was ecstatic to find out that there’s a word for it — ecotourism.

I think we should give the bike more credit. Sure it can be a great way to get some exercise and even have a little fun, but cycling is a is becoming a viable form of ecotourism. More and more ecotourism destinations are starting to offer bicycle rentals and host cycling tours (includingCrane Trust). Ecotourism destinations are showing us how bicycles can be used to enhance the nature tourism experience. I hope others catch on to this trend and give it a shot, I really think it’s a great way to get more people out there to experience all the Great Plains has to offer.

Picked up a hitchhiker on the Cowboy Trail near Norfolk.

03/26/16
My First Crane Migration

My First Crane Migration, by Alex Duryea, Nebraska Tourism

When I first heard about the Sandhill crane, I was a bit skeptical. I didn’t really get it. What could be so special about a common bird? They’re not endangered or rare and heck, they’re even hunted in other States like Kansas. I’ve also heard people call them the ribeye of the sky...I don’t know if I’ll ever get to test that out though.

I woke up in my hammock at 4 a.m. to the alarm on my watch. I listened to the groan of semi-trucks making their way along on I-80. It was still about 35 degrees outside with a steady breeze; I was reluctant to leave the warmth of my mummy style sleeping bag. I poked my head out and glanced at two other tents containing my dad and our friend Steve-o. I had the bright idea of signing us up for a 5 a.m. tour at the Crane Trust near Grand Island, Neb., and convincing them it would be a good idea to camp out the night before. I called out their names in the brisk morning air and got a grunt from each tent. We packed our gear and hopped in my dad’s truck to make our way to the Crane Trust.

After a short stint westward down I-80, we arrived at the Alda exit where the Crane Trust Nature and Visitors Center waited just south of the interstate. Inside the dimly lit facility we were greeted by an old farmer wearing coveralls. He welcomed us and gestured toward a few empty seats in a nearby room containing about eight other people. He introduced himself and listed off a few rules while in the blind: no flash photography, silence cell phones, and no bright lights were the ones that stuck. The old farmer directed us back to our vehicles and instructed us to follow him with our headlights off. We made our way down the highway a mile or so and pulled into a private drive where we exited our vehicles and made our way to the viewing blind.

I entered the blind and was met with an unforgettable view, the Platte River lay still with the moon clinging to the horizon, refusing to disappear. My eyes began to adjust to the darkness and shapes started to appear on the river. Those black masses resting on the Platte that I had originally assumed were sandbars morphed into groups of Sandhill cranes. I had no idea 
there would be so many.
The sun begins to spill over the horizon, and I notice something: the sound. No not the soft flutter of nearby camera shutters but the cranes, they are getting louder. The sound is oddly soothing, if you can imagine a bird purring and then multiplying it by 15,000. After experiencing this epic migration, every video I’ve watched afterward just doesn’t do it justice. You have to experience it in person to understand. 
Too soon it seemed like the old farmer quietly informed us that we were nearing the end of our time in the blind. We took a few last good looks at the cranes beginning to take flight into the sunrise. The others packed up camera equipment and discretely exited the blind.

Every year nearly 500,000 of these amazing creatures make this incredible journey across the Great Plains. Seeing the Sandhill crane migration is one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had. It is truly a treasure of the Great Plains.

See the Cranes this month at Crane Trust and Rowe Sancutary
04/02/15
Sandhill Cranes Provide a Special Experience

By Bryce Arens, Nebraska Tourism Commission

The rise is met with a drop. The drop elicits little sound, if it did few among the eight other spectators gathered close together would notice. Their focus is on the roar. From late February through early April the Platte River Valley is home to the migration of hundreds of thousands of Sandhill Cranes, each spending two to three weeks there as they have done for thousands of years. The Wall Street Journal calls it one of the world’s greatest natural spectacles. In Nebraska when the cranes rise, jaws drop, the roar of thousands of birds drowning out all else.

When I first heard about the Sandhill Crane migration I didn’t get it. I grew up in Omaha through high school and went to college in Lincoln, admittedly oblivious to much that happened west of there, especially what was going on along the Platte River. I likely would have continued to be oblivious if I had not gotten a job at the Nebraska Tourism Commission, my first out of college. Soon I was traveling to, and gaining insight in, parts of the state I had not seen before, but I still had not seen the much hyped cranes and consequently still didn’t get people’s amazement with them. Pretty photos sure, impressive numbers absolutely, but they’re just birds right?


It’s 6:00 a.m. and I’m sitting in a viewing blind owned by the Crane Trust in Alda. In the blind with me are eight University of Nebraska-Lincoln hospitality majors. We are on a trip to showcase what college students can do in Nebraska and we have come to see the cranes, this blind being our first stop. We are cold; the temperature is likely below freezing, with many layers, stocking caps, gloves and much coffee fighting to keep us warm. It is completely dark out; our guide had to lead us to the blind by flashlight. As I sit, the warmth and restful sleep of my usual morning pull at my mind as I take stock of my surroundings.

 It’s quiet within the blind, a wooden structure which is about 40 feet long and 5 to 6 feet deep, with benches that run its length. A dozen or so squares, each covered by clear plastic windows to be opened, are cut into the front about five feet high. Through them we can tell we are several hundred feet from the bank of a portion of the Platte River. When the sun rises these windows will be our windows to our much anticipated crane viewing, but right now we see only black, save for what appear to be a few small islands or sandbars outlined by the moon reflecting off the water. By sight alone it would seem there is nothing to see here, but our ears make it clear that is not the case. A steady mixture of sound, undeniably the call of many, many birds, has not ceased since we left our van a half hour before. My attention has no doubt been piqued, but still they’re just birds right?   

The sun has now begun to rise and I am surprised to see what I thought were islands or sandbars were actually groups of hundreds, maybe thousands of birds sitting on the water. Just on the section of the river in front of us there are ten or more groups. The windows are now open, cameras operating just behind them soundlessly and without flash to not scare the birds. Within an hour of the sunrise, photos catch small groups of one or two cranes, sometimes a few more taking flight against the natural backdrop of the morning sky. Through binoculars you can see up close the large groups gathered on the water, each with the sandhill crane’s distinctive red forehead that extends to their beak. At this point I am astounded by the sheer number of them, but am not prepared for what is coming from down the river. A rise, a roar, a drop, and forever a memory.

When I first heard the roar it took me back to the many times I had watched football games in Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium. A player breaks into the open field. The sound rises on one end of the stadium, the volume increasing as it moves across the rest. By the time the player reaches the end zone you are enveloped in the roar. As I sat in the blind that familiar roar again hit me, the cold, the lack of sleep and the waiting forgotten in that moment.

It starts as a murmur far down the river, a wall of black dots silhouetted by the sun, all rising in unison. As they fly closer the wall widens, flock upon flock rising from the river, a crescendo of sound accompanying them. By the time they are overhead, you are within the roar of thousands of cranes calling to each other, their wings steady in their rhythm. As I watch them I understand what the hype is about, something my agape mouth can attest to. The eight cameras hurriedly taking photos tells me the others understand too.

If you are like me, your jaw is not dropped by things often; it takes something truly awing to elicit that response.  Something that is unique and entertaining. The strips of land along the Platte River in Central Nebraska provide that experience. The kind of experience that has drawn visitors from all 50 states and over 50 countries this year, according to the two prominent conservation and crane viewing operations in Nebraska, the Crane Trust and the Ian Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary outside of Gibbon. If you want that experience I encourage you to visit the Crane Trust or Rowe Sanctuary, both offer daily guided tours in the blinds in the morning and evening. Other viewing opportunities also exist, which are detailed on the Crane Trust and Rowe Sanctuary websites.

Soon the cranes will move on from Nebraska, their migration taking them north. While they are here, this year or in the future, join them for a morning or evening. All you will need is a warm coat, a camera and the understanding that when they rise, your jaw may drop.


Contact the Nebraska Tourism Commission for more information on Sandhill Crane Viewing opportunities at 402-471-3796 or on our website at VisitNebraska.com