The Niobrara River is an outstanding example of a largely free-flowing Great Plains river.The valley contains a large concentration of scenic cliffs and waterfalls, rare in the Great Plains.The high bluffs along the river provide scenic vistas of the valley, with distant views of the Sand Hill prairie to the south.
The Niobrara Valley supports exceptional biological diversity.Elements of at least six different ecosystems exist very close to each other and intermix in the river corridor including Rocky Mountain pine forest, northern (boreal) forest, eastern deciduous forest, tall grass prairie, mixed grass prairie, and Sand Hills prairie.
Approximately 160 species of plants and animals found in the Niobrara Valley are at the edge of their range.
The braided lower river provides important nesting habitat for the endangered interior least tern and the threatened piping plover.The river also provides important migratory habitat for the whooping crane, bald eagle, and peregrine falcon.In addition, the area contains rich and scientifically important fossil beds, some of which are world renowned.
The upper portion of the river offers relatively safe and enjoyable river recreation for people of various skill levels.During the summer months many people float the river, which ranks as one of the top ten canoeing rivers in the nation.
Ranches are an important component of the landscape along the Niobrara River.A legacy of good stewardship by ranchers and a deep-rooted caring attitude helps preserve the rich and diverse resources of the valley.
Scenic River Designation
Because of its exceptional and diverse features, Congress designated a portion of the Niobrara River as a National Scenic River in 1991.The Niobrara National Scenic River stretches 76 miles from Borman Bridge near Valentine, Nebraska, to the Highway 137 Bridge north of Newport, Nebraska.The scenic river corridor encompasses over 20,000 acres of private and public lands, including portions of Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, Smith Falls State Park, and the Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve.A majority of tea land in this designation is privately owned.
History of the Council
The Niobrara Council was formed in 1997 to assist the National Park Service in managing and protecting Niobrara National Scenic River resources.It formed out of the wishes of the local people to have an active voice in the river management issues and a strong desire to preserve the rural characteristics, scenic qualities, and private ownership o land in the area, some of which has been in the same families for over a hundred years.The Council was originally formed by an inter-local agreement between Brown, Cherry, Keya Paha, and Rock Counties.However in 2000, the Council was strengthened when the State of Nebraska passed legislation which reconstituted the Council as the “State-Recognized” organization and delegated Niobrara River management responsibility, including the ability to develop conservation easements and hold title to land.
Initially the Council had 15 members, each representing a different stakeholder’s perspective, but this number was later expanded to 16.The membership consists of representatives from local, state, and federal government, local landowners, county commissioners, area industries, and the environmental community.The diverse makeup of the Council provides a wealth of knowledge, experience, and new perspectives regarding river management issues.Although the “Niobrara Council” concept was a departure from conventional approaches to natural resource management, the cooperative experiment has proven to be extremely effective and now serves as a model for others throughout the nation.