The following article highlights the area so people can find additional things to do while visiting the area. I hope you find it helpful.
LINCOLN, Neb. -- "So, what is there to do around here?" When visitors who have traveled perhaps hundreds of miles to watch birds ask that question, they probably aren't looking for the nearest water park or shopping mall. More likely, they'd welcome other wildlife viewing opportunities, walking and hiking, historical and rural sites.
The Nebraska Nature and Visitor Center and the University of Nebraska Rural Initiative set out to determine just what would appeal to the 70,000 or so people who flock to central Nebraska every spring to watch the sandhill cranes' migration. The idea is to build on the already significant economic impact by coaxing visitors to spend a little more time, and money, in the region.
That economic impact was estimated at $10.3 million in a recent University of Nebraska-Lincoln Bureau of Business Research study. The professors who conducted that study suggested their findings pointed to new economic prospects in the region.
To that end, the visitor center and Rural Initiative surveyed visitors at several locations during the 2010 crane migration. The survey was meant to gather information about what other activities and attractions might interest the 70,000 annual visitors who go to central Nebraska to observe the migration.
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"Visitors to central Nebraska during the crane migration are apparently true bird watchers, and this is reflected in the activities that they find most appealing," said Connie Francis, a rural tourism development educator with the University of Nebraska Rural Initiative.
The top five interests survey respondents mentioned:
-- Wildlife viewing, 86 percent
-- Hiking/walking, 69 percent
-- Historical sites, 67 percent
-- Rural sites, 64 percent
-- Guided tours of attractions, 43 percent
Sixty-one percent of the survey respondents said they were 56 to 70 years old, and 20 percent said one or more members of their party were over 70. Crane watchers also appear to be highly educated. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said they had a college degree, and more than one-third reported graduate or professional training. This educational level is reflected in the other activities they indicated interested them, including historical sites. Nearly two-thirds indicated a specific interest in rural sites.
Just over half the crane-migration observers come from outside Nebraska, and many may be interested in learning about central Nebraska's environment, culture and economy.
The Rural Initiative put together a list of more than 50 attractions in central Nebraska that might appeal to crane watchers, including historical sites, wildlife viewing, museums, art galleries, entertainment, wineries and microbreweries. The target audience is people 55 and over, and ideas are being promoted via the February issue of Prairie Fire, online at http://www.prairiefirenewspaper.com/2011/02.
The list ranges from the Dowse Sod House near Comstock and the historical Frank House in Kearney to sites celebrating literary giants Willa Cather and Wright Morris. Visitors taking their cue from the list could find themselves in everything from opera houses and art galleries to, quite literally, a rut (the Oregon Trail wagon train variety, that is).
Francis emphasized that the list is not intended to be all-encompassing. It's a starting point that the Rural Initiative hopes might spark communities in the region to get creative in coming up with their own ideas.
The list of suggested activities is available at http://ruralinitiative.nebraska.edu/tourism; click on the heading "Events and Activities in the Crane Viewing Area." The entire report also is available at that site; click on "Nebraska's Sandhill Crane Migration: Opportunities for Additional Economic Activity."