New website devoted to ecotourism in Nebraska

· 3 min read

New website devoted to ecotourism in Nebraska

Outdoor Nebraska is a lot more than cattle ranches and corn fields, it’s also rare-but-beautiful grassland prairies, rivers and wetlands. A new website hopes to surprise Nebraskans with a variety of tourism experiences with an environmentally friendly focus.

Visit the Prairie, a coalition between the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska, Switzer Ranch and Nature Reserve, and the Grand Island Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, is dedicated to promoting ecotourism opportunities within Nebraska by making information and media about ecotourism sites easy to find via its site,

Ecotourism is any place or site that is primarily devoted to environmental or biodiversity conservation, provides an opportunities to experience nature and is open to the public, according to a recent ecotourism map produced by the Center for Great Plains Studies.

Ecotourism is a niche tourism economy with great potential for the Plains states. Nebraska has a variety of these ecotourism opportunities, ranging from river tubing and forest hiking to bird watching and horseback riding. Both Switzer Ranch and the Grand Island Convention and Visitor’s Bureau offer several of these opportunities.

Brad Mellema, executive director of the bureau, said he hopes people will take the opportunity to see Nebraska’s natural beauty.

“There are very few places where people of all backgrounds can come together and share such an experience,” he said “Where else will you find yourself in a viewing blind with a chance crowd consisting of a New York banker, a housewife from Grand Island, a college student from Denver and a poet from the Andes of Chile?”

Richard Edwards, director of the Center for Great Plains Studies, said the main reason to be an ecotourist is that these sites are places that offer unique and wonderful experiences. And the dollars spent there help conserve the environment.

“Most of us spend the majority of our lives in human-structured and human-built environments – that’s why we go to the beach, to ‘get away from it all.’ Ecotourism offers another way to escape, but this time into the magical world of nature,” Edwards said. “And unlike most other escapes, your ecotourism dollars help raise environmental awareness and preserve nature for future generations.”

For a rancher like Sarah Sortum of Switzer Ranch, ecotourism provides a means to keep her family employed on the land.

“Ecotourism doesn’t just offer great nature based experiences. It directly helps wildlife species, habitat conservation and local communities,” Sortum said. “Ecotourism proves that you can boost rural economic development without sacrificing the natural resources found there; in fact, ecotourism can aid in improving those resources while providing alternate income streams to families on the land.”

Eco-friendly tourism opportunities have become more popular with younger and older generations alike as Americans have developed a growing appreciation for the outdoors, and Nebraska is no exception. See the Visit the Prairie website for photos, videos, itineraries and other information about ecotourism opportunities in Nebraska or stop by the Visit The Prairie booth at the Lincoln Earth Day festival on April 12 or at the Omaha Earth Day festival April 19.

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