SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. — A volunteer group is considering a system of trails that would span thousands of acres of public land in the Panhandle.
After spending 24 years amassing about 37,000 acres of land for public use and wildlife conservation, Platte River Basin Environments, a nonprofit corporation made up of western Nebraska sportsmen, is weighing opportunities for biking, hiking and horseback riding paths in the Wildcat Hills.
The dozens of miles of proposed trails would provide outdoor enthusiasts passage into the history-laden lands of the pioneers and Native Americans, as well as offer glimpses of wildlife including golden eagles, burrowing owls, elk, deer, bighorn sheep and wild turkeys.
The project is still in its early stages. Public safety is the first priority, and the organization’s president, Hod Kosman, said it also is keeping the native species in mind by seeking out the least disruptive trail-building methods.
“When it comes to developing trails, proper planning is the most important piece of the process,” he said. “We want to provide a good experience while keeping in mind that these lands are in place for our wild resources to prosper and flourish.”
Some of the trails would be shaped from a mishmash of former ranch roads and new pathways. The nonprofit is deliberating how to best connect the pieces, and Kosman said access to modern mapping technology has been the key to making educated decisions.
Also, it’s considering electronic maps in addition to the traditional printed guides.
Kosman said the group is looking at reducing the need for conventional trail markers by storing dozens of miles worth of trails in Quick Response Codes, an encoded, two-dimensional bar code that can take users directly to websites or reference pages when scanned by a smartphone or similar device.
“With that great innovation, people would not only have a visual trail, they could also pull up history on the area, comments on native wildlife or directions to nearby vistas,” he said.
Platte River Basin Environments member Bruce Rolls said paths will be a nice addition, but areas south and southwest of Gering are already available for hunting, photography, birdwatching, fishing and other activities.
“We’re still getting started and trying to figure out the best way to do the trails, but you can still go out there,” he said. “At this point, you’re on your own from the parking lot on.”
For more information, visit www.nebwild.org.