Local 'Birding Challenge' created

Monday, January 11, 2021
A great blue heron is one of the birds one can spot in Southwest Nebraska.
Courtesy photo

McCOOK, Neb. — 2020 wasn’t as big a disaster for the local tourism industry as one might expect, and officials are rolling out a new promotion to make upcoming years even better.

In her annual report to the Red Willow County Commissioners, Carol Schlegel, visitors bureau director, said she had heard of counterparts elsewhere in the state suffering a 30% decline in lodging tax revenues.

The local numbers were down by 3%. “I can live with that,” Schlegel said.

While income was down, so were expenses associated with travel to travel and recreation trade shows, most of which were canceled in 2020. This year’s major Omaha sports show was canceled, and July is likely to be the earliest local promoters are likely to attend.

Only three of 10 Prairie Chicken Dance Tours were completed in 2020, but contingency plans are in place to take needed precautions such as smaller groups and wearing masks in vehicles taking participants to local “leks” where prairie chickens carry out their colorful mating rituals.

“People are really excited to get out again,” she said.

To encourage them, the McCook / Red Willow County Visitors Committee is creating the Red Willow County Birding Challenge, open from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2021.

A proof brochure points out that “the native sand sage prairies of Southwest Nebraska attract a remarkable variety of some of North America’s most interesting birds. The region is also on one of the principal routes of the Central Migration Flyway for waterfowl’s annual trip between breeding and wintering areas.”

Participants try to find any 50 bird species in and around Red Willow County to complete the challenge. While some are common, others are rare and may be limited to a specific habitat or time of year, the entry brochure points out.

Local birding locations include Barnett Park, Kelley Park / Bolles Canyon, Kelley Creek Walking Trail, Red Willow State Recreation Area, Medicine Creek State Recreation Area, Swanson State Recreation Area.

Everyone who finishes the challenge will earn a 2021 Commemorative Patch and be entered in a drawing for two Prairie Chicken Dance Tours in 2022.

An entry form can be picked up at the McCook / Red Willow County Visitors Bureau office, 402 Norris Ave. Room 318, or download a form at www.visitmccook.com.

Schlegel noted that the payoff for local tourism officials will be names and addresses of participants and information about the use of local lodging and dining establishments.

She also urged anyone who would like to provide hunting land to contact her at 308-345-1200 ext. 318 or carol@VisitMcCook.com.

She said there was no system in place in Nebraska to license outfitters, but landowners can earn money and have new limited liability protection in state law.

“We’ve got the hunting, but we don’t have the access,” Schlegel said.

She said the relationships hunters develop with landowners are an important factor in increasing hunting opportunities.

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