Nebraska’s tourism slogan is “Visit Nebraska. Visit Nice.” You can add that Nebraska is also a nice surprise.
A visit to the Cornhusker State uncovers a wealth of pleasant discoveries and distinctive experiences that extend far beyond the stereotypical image of miles of flat corn, wheat and soybean fields.
“If you have been to Nebraska only along the interstate, you have missed a lot,” said David Sawyer, director of the Burwell Visitors Bureau. “Nebraska is not what you think it is.”
“Nebraska has lots of surprises,” said Tricia Beem, executive director of the Grand Island/Hall County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “When you get here, it exceeds all expectations. There isn’t one part of Nebraska that is like another; that is what makes us interesting and beautiful.”
Even the topography of the state’s largest city, Omaha, surprises people. “People think we are flat. They are surprised at how hilly Omaha is,” said Bill Slovinski, group tour coordinator for the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau.
An inspiring stop in Omaha is Boys Town. Started by Father Edward Flanagan in 1917, Boys Town is internationally recognized for its pioneering work with children and families.
Tours of the 900-acre campus include the Hall of History with exhibits spanning its history and current work, and the Father Flanagan House, restored to the 1920s era when he lived there.
Groups can have lunch at Boys Town, which is an incorporated village with its own ZIP code, and possibly meet some of the residents, who have included girls since 1979.
That was shortly after Omaha’s former train station was converted to a museum. “This is our 40th anniversary as a museum,” said Kathryn Mortensen, the Durham Museum’s education programs manager.
Today, the lower level of the station and its former loading platform, now covered, contain exhibits, replica storefronts and a train you can walk through that trace the history of Omaha and the Union Pacific Railroad.
“The biggest art is the building,” said Mortensen. The ornate Great Hall with its 60-foot ceilings and Art Deco decor has been restored to the way it looked during its heyday, when 10,000 passengers a day passed through.
Throughout the hall, life-size statues represent former travelers, including a serviceman with his duffel bag headed off to World War II and a businessman looking at the replicated train schedule. Some have motion-activated recordings talking about that person’s experiences.
Having a 2,000-pound buffalo or magnificently antlered elk take an ear of corn from your hand is an unforgettable experience.
That is what the Kreycik Elk and Buffalo Tours offer as they take up to 60 people in two tractor-drawn covered wagons through their large elk and buffalo herds in hilly pastures overlooking the scenic Niobrara River Valley in northern Nebraska.
“This is as close as you can get to elk and buffalo,” said Stacy Kreycik Miller. “You can smell their breath.”
“When you get to the buffalo pasture, it is so darn noisy with everyone shouting with excitement,” said Chris Kreycik, Stacy’s mother and matriarch of the family-owned and -operated business that also includes her son Steve, daughter-in-law Allison and son-in-law Clint Miller.
Chris’ late husband, Kenard, started the tours 20 years ago after people kept asking to see the elk and buffalo he had been collecting. They now also include Boomer, the longhorn steer who hangs out with the buffalo; Suzy, the bottle-fed elk, who loves to have her ears scratched; and miniature European fallow deer.