Golden Plains are just the ticket for the right audience

Monday, September 25, 2006

It was another successful Heritage Days celebration, with plenty of socializing and getting reacquainted with old friends. Especially touching was the World War II music presented at the Fox Theater by local and Oberlin musicians, and we know we'll hear much more from these talented performers in the future.

The annual event is a great time for class reunions, and there were several in town this weekend. For graduates of a certain age, we think such trips often are used as scouting trips for expatriates looking for a way to return to their hometown.

Whether to raise a young family, enjoy an empty nest or retire, many former McCook residents who have tired of big-city life elsewhere are figuring out ways to move back to Southwest Nebraska.

But Nebraska shouldn't sell itself short when it comes to tourism, according to a new report prepared by an Oregon-based economic consulting firm hired by the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission.

"Nebraska doesn't have the mountains and doesn't have the beaches," Ernie Niemi of ECONorthwest said at a Mahoney State Park news conference on Wednesday.

"But Nebraska does have significant natural resources that have the potential to stimulate amenity-driven growth to the state." And, some of it could help the towns that need it most.

In other words, ranchers might might make more money catering to greenhorns than longhorns.

Open spaces, free-flowing rivers, grasslands, wetlands and croplands offer opportunities for "ecotourism and agritourism," the report indicates. Activities such as canoeing, birdwatching, astronomy, fishing and hunting can draw people ready and willing to infuse money into the local economy.

It worked more than a century ago when Buffalo Bill and others hosted the Grand Duke Alexis for a buffalo hunt near Hayes Center, an event that will be recreated Friday through Monday at Camp Hayes, eight miles northeast of Hayes Center.

And the annual High Plains Freedom Flight, set this year for Oct. 28-29, is another event that takes advantage of our wide-open spaces. There's nothing like the sight of a colorful balloon, floating over golden grasslands against a blue sky dotted with puffy cumulus clouds.

No, Nebraska may not have surfing or mountains, but for the right audience -- visitors who grew up in crowded cities for instance -- our Golden Plains might be just the ticket.

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