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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.

Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
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.

Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
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] ♫
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.

Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
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.

Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
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?
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.

Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
3 minutes, 26 seconds

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

Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
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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214 W US Highway 20
Valentine, NE 69201


(402) 376-1901

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