KRISTINA HARTER
Northwest Nebraska Tourism Director 
Friday, December 1, 2017

As we move into the winter season, I find myself grateful for the 70 degree weather we have had this late fall. This is certainly uncharacteristic for northwest Nebraska, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s provided myself and many other outdoor enthusiasts the opportunity to take advantage of late hikes and bicycle rides in Nebraska’s beautiful Pine Ridge.  

Growing up in Colorado, one of my favorite hobbies quickly became… you guessed it… HIKING! I spent many summers climbing 14ers, backpacking with my siblings, and chasing waterfalls. When I moved to Nebraska and began to make Chadron my permanent location, I thought I would miss out on all those awesome outdoor opportunities. It wasn’t until after I graduated from Chadron State College and lived here for nearly 4 years that I realized I was missing out on over 200 miles of trails and 169,000 acres of public land right in my backyard!

Sure, northwest Nebraska does not boast massive mountains and tons of waterfalls. But it does have land that remains largely unchanged from the pioneer days – meaning you don’t have to compete for a spot on the trail to hike – and it includes two renowned state parks the Nebraska National Forest, the Oglala National Grasslands, Nebraska’s Badlands, and hundreds of unique buttes in the 100-mile long Pine Ridge escarpment.

I could rant about my favorite trails and how much I’ve grown to love this area, but more importantly, I’d like to recognize the Northwest Nebraska Trails Association (NNTA), which is a fairly new group spearheading the growth, development and promotion of trails in Dawes and Sioux counties.

The NNTA formed in early 2017 when a group of outdoor recreationists saw the need for a local organization to support the development, promotion and maintenance of the region’s outstanding trails resources for non-motorized exploration.

Since its origin, the NNTA has partnered with the Nebraska Tourism Commission to develop a comprehensive recreational trails guidebook that highlights eight trail complexes in the region.  The user-friendly guidebook is available at the Chadron Chamber and Visitors Center and a PDF version is available online. It is an excellent resource for both newbies to the area and even experts who may not know about all the trails available.

This segment of the Cowboy Trail features one of many bridges east of Chadron to be refinished in the development of this project. Haag, 2016. Copyright NEBRASKAland Magazine, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

In addition to the guidebook, the NNTA began a series of volunteer workdays to maintain and improve select trails in the region. The group believes in building camaraderie among its members through not only its advocacy and volunteerism, but also through social events such as group hikes, runs and rides.

One of the group’s major objectives is completing the section of the Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail from Chadron to Hay Springs, allowing for an uninterrupted route to Gordon on the smooth grade since abandoned by an historic railroad. Members also envision a trail suitable for all users linking the Heritage Trail at Chadron State College to Chadron State Park, eventually joining premier tourist attractions in Dawes and Sheridan counties for non-motorized travelers. These two projects will not only make outdoor recreation more safe and enjoyable in the region, but will also cater to an under-served demographic of trail users and generate tourism.

For the even bigger picture, the Cowboy Trail is a segment in the backbone of the nationwide Great American Rail-Trail with endpoints in Washington D.C.

and Washington State. Until recently, it was unknown if this was a realistic pursuit. Analyses implemented in the past few years of open rail-trails and out-of-service rail corridors show the potential to build a rail-trail that spans from Washington to Washington.

The Rails to Trails Conservancy says, “Any number of possible routes are more than 50 percent complete and span nearly 4,000 miles. And demand for rail-trails and the benefits they bring—from economic gains to physical health and wellness—is high. People understand the value of trails, and they want them in their communities.”

And we are pushing for Northwest Nebraska to be one of them. It’s a long-term goal and there are many facets, but with the enthusiasm and persistence of NNTA members it can be a reality. 

There’s no doubt that Northwest Nebraska is plentiful in trails, public lands and scenic beauty. It’s my hope that locals continue to recognize the blessing of having these outdoor spaces so close and that visitors continue to see that Nebraska is SO much more than “cows, cornfields and I-80.”

Hikers, bikers, runners, horseback riders, cross-country skiers, and more – if you love Northwest Nebraska trails, you’re invited to join our journey. Check out the new NNTA website and join us at our next group meeting, social or maintenance day.

For all you die-hards, our brand new NNTA t-shirts are now available.

Just $10 for short sleeves and $15 for long sleeves. 

To place an order email your size (S, M, L, XL, XXL) and style (long sleeve, short sleeve) to NWNebraskaTrails@gmail.com .  You may also purchase them at the Chadron Chamber and Visitors Center or visit Brittany in Room 203A at the Chadron State College Nelson Physical Activities Center. 

Happy Trails!

Kristina Harter