“I didn’t want to go through the rest of my life and not be able to go down that stretch again,” Engel said.
The closing of access this summer means that float trips on the Dismal will probably be limited to day trips that start at a bridge south of Seneca and end at a pull-out south of Thedford, he said.
The Dismal River is known as “divorce river” because of its many tight turns and snags of cedar trees that can cause spills — risking divorce for a husband and wife sharing a canoe.
Engel said if he had one recommendation, it would be to erect a warning sign alerting users that it’s not a stream for beginners. He also recommended starting trips early enough in the morning to arrive at the only camping site on the Dismal, south of Seneca. If you begin a float trip too late, he said you can get stranded in the dark on the river, which is far from any ranches or communities.
In October, a helicopter rescue was needed when a group of kayakers from Kansas got stuck on the river.
Photos: National landmarks of Nebraska
Don Parmenter, left, of Gering and Casey Debus of Morrill wait momentarily at Scotts Bluff National Monument for a transfer of the saddle pouch. In 2008, the two riders participated in a Pony Express re-ride that began in Sacramento, California, and concluded in St. Joseph, Missouri.
The Willow Island Pony Express station sits in a city park in Cozad, Nebraska. First used as a trading post, the station also served as a stage coach stop for the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company. The cabin was originally built on a bank of the Platte River, south of present-day Darr, Nebraska, and was moved here in 1938.
Markers south of Exit 231 on Interstate 80, between Lexington and Cozad, designate the nearby sites of the Willow Island Pony Express station, left, and the Oregon Trail.
Trail riders move down the Oregon Trail at Ash Hollow State Historical Park during the Convergence on Sacred Ground event in 2017. In full, the Oregon Trail spanned over 2,000 miles and crossed six states, in which trail landmarks, settlements, wagon ruts and other traces can still be seen today.
The Oregon Trail Wagon Train passes over a bed of white "plains bee balm" on the first day of a four-day trek. Once a popular tourist attraction, participants were able to experience a little of what the pioneer journey over the prairie near Chimney Rock was like.
For both Native American tribes and pioneers traveling westward, Chimney Rock, now a National Historic Site near Bayard, was the first of two important markers along the Oregon, Mormon, and California Trails in the Nebraska Panhandle. The unique geological formation, along with the landmark at Scotts Bluff National Monument, less than thirty miles away, appears mentioned in the writings of many early settlers.
Evening light and rolling storm clouds create a scenic backdrop for the prairie landscape at Scotts Bluff National Monument.
The Homestead Act of 1862 offered incentive, in the form of 160 acres of free land, to pioneers moving westward. Homestead National Monument commemorates this historic event, housing an extensive collection of homesteading artifacts and offering interactive exhibits documenting the lives of early settlers. On display here is a 1945 Allis Chalmers Model C tractor, used in Alaska on the nation's last homestead.
The sky over the Homestead National Monument's Homestead Heritage Center is illuminated by a lunar eclipse on Jan. 31, 2018, as seen through the window of the center. Open prairie and clear skies have made the site popular for star viewing and storytelling, as well as daytime astronomy programs.
The Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail traces the path of early Mormon settlers from Illinois, through Iowa and Nebraska, toward Wyoming and Utah. Two notable encampment areas
— Winter Quarters in north Omaha and Kanesville in Council Bluff s — served as vital stops along the way.
Amber Lutke, left, and Russ Leger lead a wagon train on Pioneer Trail heading to for the Grand Encampment at the Iowa School for the Deaf in Council Bluffs. The event marked the 170th anniversary since the Mormons left Nauvoo, Illinois, to camp in what are now Council Bluffs and North Omaha.
Dave McKeag, trail boss and wagonmaster from Council Bluffs, prepares to lead the 150th anniversary Gold Rush Days wagon trail ride to California. The ride started from the Western Historic Trail Center in Council Bluffs and included a stop overnight in Omaha.
The Missouri River, as seen from the Chief Standing Bear Bridge connecting Nebraska and South Dakota, near Niobrara on the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail. Two segments of the river, totaling just over one hundred miles, make up the Missouri National Recreational River.
The Lewis and Clark replica keelboat of The Discovery Expedition of St. Charles, Missouri, pushes up the Missouri River across from downtown Omaha. As part of the 200th anniversary celebration of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, reenactors followed the original route of the expedition up the river, stopping at several cities along the way.
Rapids attract visitors to the Niobrara River's Rocky Ford area. Only a fraction of segments of rivers in the United States are able to be designated under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System — the 76-mile stretch near Valentine qualifies by being a free-flowing segment with accessible undeveloped shoreline and clean or managed water. Rocky Ford, a popular takeout site for canoes and float trips, is privately owned, but past negotiations have considered turning it over to the federal government to ensure continued public access.
Members of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Wildlife Club take canoes and kayaks out on the Niobrara River.
The Niobrara National Scenic River is also home to nationally and regionally significant geology, fossil sites and wildlife. Diverse species of plants and animals, including elk, can be found at the Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge.
This bock of fossils was collected from the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument and is housed in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. It contains bones from several different groups of animals, including chalicotheres, giant pigs, oreodonts, cats and dogs. Most of the bones, however, are from Menoceras, a pony-sized rhinoceros.
Sunset shadows at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument.