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There are many things that make the Niobrara NSR special. Find out more about your favorite topic with our featured videos, or watch the 20-minute park film.

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[Birds chirp]

♫ [Music plays] ♫

One of the things that’s special about the Niobrara is the diversity of life that you see here.

The Niobrara River valley is a crossroads where everything seems to meet.

Wetter, eastern habitats meet the drier, western habitats, so they overlap, and we have both.

We're also toward the very northern edge of the Nebraska Sandhills, and we also have some special areas more common to the north.

Ponderosa pine forests, eastern deciduous forests, and boreal forests all mingle right here in this part of the Niobrara River Valley. They don’t do that in too many other places on Earth.

Boreal forests have paper birches and different kinds of aspens. These are trees that, in general, you don't find around here. But you find them in our isolated little spring branch canyons.

[Birds chirp] This is a great spot for birding. The only problem is, field guides are usually divided into eastern and western guides. Here, you have to carry both.

We have Bullock’s orioles, which are a western species, and Baltimore orioles, which are eastern species. And they meet here and they actually hybridize.

STEVEN HICKS: Plovers and terns are birds that are in trouble, and they really need that river habitat. Otters—river otters— they're fairly scarce in a lot of North America, but we have pretty decent populations here. We have mountain lions that patrol up and down that, looking for a meal, and it's all those other animals that are tied to the river.

KRISTEN MAXFIELD: The variety of grasses and wildflowers in the prairie is part of what makes it so beautiful. The variety is also wonderful for the wildlife. We have different forms of grasses, different heights, different structures, different seed types. And some of them are great for food. Some of them are really for shelter. Others are great spots for a bird looking for a mate to perch on and sing. When you have this diversity of plant life, it increases your diversity of animal life.

The details can be so unexpected. When you get the wide view, the wide view is beautiful, and then you get those unexpected details.

You can be in one section of the river. It will look totally different than the next section of the river. It’s kind of like a surprise around every corner.

[Geese honk]

We have some people who are willing to float for two entire days. And I think the different wildlife they see, the different plant types they see, that is one of the reasons that they keep on coming back.

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4 minutes, 23 seconds

Mule deer and whitetail deer, Ponderosa pine trees and eastern basswood trees. Explore the astounding and unusual diversity of plants and animals found along the Niobrara National Scenic River. The river's location allows plants and animals that are considered western, eastern, southern, or northern to all mingle here.


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♫ [Music plays] ♫

NARRATOR: The cool running water of the Niobrara has attracted people to its shores since ancient times.

In the Ponca language, “Niobrara” means running waters or wide-flowing waters.

Traditionally, when we traveled and we moved camp, there had to be a lake, or a spring or a river that we would’ve camped near. So we were always around the water.

Holes like this— if you’re hungry, that’s where you catch your fish at.

This river here, we used it for traveling to village sites, trading goods, and along the river there are places where we gathered different food sources.

NARRATOR: Pawnee, Lakota, and other tribes also hunted and traveled through the Niobrara River valley. Europeans arrived in the 1700s, exploring and trading with American Indian tribes.

The population grew in the area when the US Army established one of the last frontier forts to be built on the Great Plains in 1879: Fort Niobrara.

The arrival of the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad in 1883 opened the area to homesteading and cattle ranching.

RICH EGELHOFF: My great-great-grandfather came over from Germany. And then my great-grandfather came to Keya Paha County just north of here. The house that they built, they built out of rock and cement.

NARRATOR: Valentine City supplied the Sandhill region’s ranchers and homesteaders through sun and snow.

When troops departed, Fort Niobrara was established as a national wildlife refuge in 1912. The red hay barn is all that remains from the early days.

MAN: There you go! Rope him. Good Job!

NARRATOR: Today, Valentine is still a cattle town at heart. The ranching heritage is celebrated on Main Street at the annual Bull Bash.

ROD GIERAU: My grandfather come over from the Alsace-Lorraine and homesteaded right where we’re at in 1884. We’re one of the very first homesteaders in Keya Paha County.

NARRATOR: The human history of the Niobrara River valley is rich and continues to link those who live along it today with those who have come in the past.

DENNY BAMMERLIN: Once your land’s been in the family for 100 years, you feel pretty obligated not to mess up. There’s… it’s a strong connection to the land.

I feel the presence of my ancestors when I'm close to the areas where they would have camped or where they would have lived. And when I'm in certain areas Where I know they were, where they lived, I get goosebumps, because I can feel them there.

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4 minutes, 41 seconds

Explore the recent human history of the Niobrara River Valley, which makes the Niobrara such a unique and wonderful place.


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♫ [Music plays] ♫ [Laughter] KAYAKER: Whoo! BOBBIE JO PENNINGTON: The Niobrara is really special. It's just so unique, and then the river itself is just so beautiful.

CARMEL CASE: I've floated the river 16 times. ROBERT CASE: This is my first time. I was expecting a teeny little river, narrow, really shallow, but I'm actually really impressed by it. You're not looking at houses or power lines and stuff like that. It's just you and nature. It's really nice.

JIM DAHLSTROM: Did you guys get any of these when you got on the river today? Litter bags?

TUBER: We would love to, though.


TUBER: Hey, I appreciate that a lot.

DAHLSTROM: When you get off at your landing, there’ll be a spot to put recycling and garbage. Every day out here, people’s coolers get flipped over and then everything ends up in the river. And then we end up having to chase everything down and stuff, so… the better you can do with trying to keep everything strapped down and use these bags, tie these bags down, the cleaner the river’s gonna be. Last year, our rangers estimate about 2 ½ tons of trash that they picked up just with four guys. People should care about the Niobrara River because it's your river. It's the American people's river.

So, the Niobrara National Scenic River is unique in a lot of ways. Nearly all of the land that the river flows through is in private ownership. So we try to get the word out about respecting people's private property rights, not venturing off of the river when they're not in a public area. So, you know, leave what you find, tread lightly, and respect other people on the river so that everybody has a good time out here.

SHANE TUCKER: If you find a fossil, you know, you should contact somebody at the Park Service or somebody at a museum. Document where it is exactly. Take a photograph. That might be a new species that hasn’t been found before, or something really rare.

STEVE BREUKLANDER: Enjoy it for what it has to offer. Keep it that way… …being careful with the resources, 'cause you can love a place to death.

Mentally, just be respectful of the river... what it means to have water, fresh water… how many animals and plants rely upon the Niobrara.

[Geese honk]

BOBBIE JO PENNINGTON: It’s just really an amazing place, and the people make it even more amazing, really.

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4 minutes, 27 seconds

This entertaining video shows visitors how they can help keep the Niobrara National Scenic River beautiful, safe, and fun.


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♫ [Music plays] ♫

SHANE TUCKER: The Niobrara River is just super-rich as far as fossil resources go. Paleontologists have been collecting fossils there since the 1850s— thousands and thousands of fossils.

The rocks in the Niobrara River valley document the last 15 million years of mammal evolution.

It’s exciting, you know, when you find a fossil in the field and you first uncover it. It’s been in the ground, entombed, for millions and millions of years, and all of a sudden you’re the first person ever to see that specimen.

This is a young animal, a small species of camel that was living in this river valley 13 million years ago. You know, it may have been caught by a bone-crushing dog, that killed it.

I equate, you know, each bone to a piece in a big jigsaw puzzle. The more pieces you have, the better idea you have as what the landscape and what the animals interactions were.

The present Niobrara River valley cuts through a series of ancient river deposits. We see animals like giant land tortoises. That tells us that Nebraska was much warmer 14 million years ago. And so we probably had these large subtropical forests. And so we can start to reconstruct what Nebraska looked like by each of these puzzle pieces.

Once we get to about five million years ago, we lose a lot of animals, like giant land tortoises go extinct. So there’s something going on with the climate.

We see a new suite of animals come in 10-27,000 years ago. And the animals that we see recorded in those rock layers tell us that conditions were much colder, much drier.

Scientists from all over the world come to the University of Nebraska to study the fossils.

The goal of the museum here and the paleontologists is to make sure that we preserve these fossils so they’re around forever for future generations of scientists to utilize in their research, answering questions about climate change or just how these different animals evolved over time.

Probably 90% of the finds we have here at the museum have actually been reported by an amateur paleontologist or a landowner.

You might find a bone on the surface and think, “Oh, there's hundreds, there's millions of these.” Well, that one bone you picked up, if you don’t know what it is, may be a one-of-a-kind specimen. You should contact, you know, either the Park Service or the museum.

The more time we spend here, the more puzzle pieces we’re gonna find, and the more clear picture we will have as to what Nebraska looked like 13 million years ago.

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4 minutes, 12 seconds

The Niobrara River Valley is home to world-class fossil quarries featuring prehistoric mammals like mammoths, camels, horses, and much more. Join Nebraska State Highway Paleontologist Shane Tucker on this journey back in time.


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♫ [Music plays] ♫

JANETTE DUFFIELD: Years ago, when you homesteaded, what was the most important thing? Water. It’s not that far off the mark that water is still one of the most important commodities. Free-flowing water that’s still pure, still clean—that’s a big deal.

RANDY TEBOE: As a Ponca, the river means to me… life. It provides nutrients to everything that is living. Water is life. Without water, we do not exist.

BOBBIE JO PENNINGTON: You don't imagine how much wildlife and how much people depend on rivers until you just kind of go out and see one every day.

STEVEN HICKS: The river is really the lifeblood of this whole area. It provides a water source for a lot of the animals that live in the area, and the birds.

[Geese honk]

[Thunder rumbles]

The rainfall falls on the sand, and it’s very porous, soaks in out here in the Sandhills. And that comes out in springs and goes into the river.

NARRATOR: The majority of the water that feeds the Niobrara comes from the High Plains Aquifer, a massive reservoir of water stored in porous rock underneath the Great Plains.

In the Niobrara watershed, rainfall and snowmelt help to keep this part of the aquifer able to supply the water that fills the ponds, lakes, and rivers so important to the wildlife of the area. But increasing demands from irrigation, public, and household use may threaten the health of the aquifer.

Landowners and local, state, and federal agencies are working together to responsibly use the aquifer and maintain the natural river flow of the Niobrara, now and into the future.

RICH MERCURE: The more irrigation and things like that that people are interested in doing with this river water— it will definitely affect the long-term recreation on the river.

STEVE BREUKLANDER: We've got water as long as they don't divert it all out. And with the scenic river protection, it does get tough when you're talking crops, versus recreation. We just hope we can find the balance.

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3 minutes, 26 seconds

Water, the source of beauty, serenity, and fun, is also needed for houses, agriculture, and industry.

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20 minutes, 10 seconds

Visitors and local community members help share the beauty--and importance--of the Niobrara National Scenic River. This is the full, award-winning 20-minute film that is shown in our visitor center. Make sure to watch it in the highest quality, if you can.


In-House or Youth Videos


Last updated: July 24, 2019

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Valentine, NE 69201


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