Twenty-three years ago, a group of people got together to launch an idea. It came from a need for a place to connect people with the sandhill cranes. People were showing up in the area to see cranes in ever increasing numbers. People had written about the birds: Johnsgard, Lingle, and Archibald. When they wrote, the birders took note. Then the public took notice when people like Forsberg, Sartore, and Tebbel began to get it out there that this was something unique.
People that grew up around here knew about the cranes, they’re everywhere. Love them or hate them, they’re just part of being here as much as planting corn and the dicey weather each spring. For most, it never occurred that this was something unique or exotic. Who are these people and why are they coming to see these birds? But come they did, and the hospitality industry began to see an increase in an otherwise slow time of year.
Grand Island found itself with a need, and Paul Currier from Whooping Crane Trust along with local leaders kicked off the idea by providing a place, a small building where tours and programs could be held. Education and information were recognized as beneficial to conservation because if things are happening, good or bad, and people don’t know about it and support it, it will go away.
The Nature Center grew and the Bosselman Family donated a former travel center with Interstate 80 frontage, where more then twenty thousand cars a day go by, to be used as a Nature Center. Grand Island got excited and footbridges were placed across the river opening up the native prairies to the public.
But, the main mission, over time, has remained; provide a place where people can connect to the Platte River and to the land. Running a non-profit in a for-profit world is a difficult thing to do. People fall in love with an idea hoping that finances will just work out. It makes for a rocky path, but through it all a culture endures that is solid, and the timeless tradition of the wildlife and the land endures, sometimes in spite of what we do.
A lot of good things have happened here; partnerships formed, ideas tried, and experiences gained. People come and go and the mission stays. People get that, it’s the tie that binds. I knew that good things were in store for this place all along, but also knew that they would never happen without partnerships. It takes a common vision to make things work in this world and when opportunities come, we cannot afford to let them pass by.
The Nature Center is now on a new path with a merger of operations as the Whooping Crane Maintenance Trust. We will now operate completely within the Trust; this is a partnership that makes sense. For those of you not familiar with the Trust, it is a land-based conservation organization created in the early 80’s as a result of the construction of the Grey Rocks Dam on the North Platte River in Wyoming. The Trust was created as mitigation for the newly implemented Endangered Species Act for the dam project.
The Trust has operated in south central Nebraska ever since, providing land and science based conservation solutions for the whooping crane and other migratory birds. The Trust has been described as the best thing most people have never heard of. It is truly and asset to Nebraska and those in the conservation and scientific community are well aware of the Trust’s activities. The Crane Trust’s work has been very much on the ground and in the river.
The Trust focus is in three areas: land, science and information/education. It’s tied together like a three legged stool. This recipe for conservation is valuable and time tested and it is not unique to the Trust. Many organizations do this to some extent, but the Trust is unique in that it a protector of critical habitat effected by the Platte River’s water flows in the big bend region.
We are now a lot further downstream from where we started. Moving forward, there will most certainly be challenges to the ideas and activities, but the Trust, as it always has, will continue to provide a unique value to this region. Not everyone will agree with every activity, and that’s ok, but the starting point for any great idea is to change a few minds at first.