Niobrara Valley Preserve Service Trip

NE Sierra Club Breakfast at Campsite

NE Sierra Club Breakfast at Campsite

July 15 – 17, 2011
The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve, Johnstown, NE

1. Visit the “Biological gem at the crossroads of the Great Plains.” Six major ecosystems converge here: Mixed grass, tallgrass and sandhills prairie, and northern boreal, western coniferous and eastern deciduous woodlands.
2. The Niobrara Valley Preserve is 56,000 acres, containing pine-clad canyons, grasslands, and 25 miles of the Niobrara River. It is home to 581 plant, 213 bird, 86 lichen, 70 butterfly, 44 mammal, 25 fish, 17 reptile, and 8 amphibian species.
3. North American prairie provided forage for bison herds for centuries. Thanks to this preserve, two herds of almost 500 bison are grazing here after a 100 year absence.

What’s Included:
1. Bunk housing. Two separate bunkhouses with bunk beds (bring your own sleeping bag and pillow). Full kitchen and laundry room. Restrooms with showers.
2. All meals. Dinner on Friday. Breakfast, lunch and dinner on Saturday. Breakfast and lunch on Sunday. Plan on bringing a sack lunch to eat when we arrive on Friday.
3. The opportunity to visit a remarkable place right here in Nebraska, the sense of accomplishment that comes with knowing that you helped to preserve an important and unique place, and the fun and camaraderie of working in the outdoors with others.

The Project:
We will be helping The Nature Conservancy maintain their hiking trails in the Niobrara Valley Preserve, just outside Johnstown, NE. They have two trails, one on each side of the river. We will probably be working on the North Trail. It is a 3 mile loop that includes 1 mile along the canyon rim, tallgrass and ponderosa pine. The trail does have some steep sections.

Friday, July 15th – We’ll leave at about 8:00am. We should arrive at the preserve just after noon. We’ll have a short introduction by the Nature Conservancy Staff, drop our gear, check out the trails and plan our next day’s work before having dinner. After dinner will be free time (hiking, bird watching, just relaxing) and a campfire (if fire hazard is low enough).
Saturday, July 16th – We’ll enjoy breakfast and make sack lunches to take out on the project. We’ll stop early enough to take a swim in the Niobrara before dinner. After dinner will be free time.
Sunday, July 17th – Breakfast, a couple hours of work (finish up any projects), clean the bunkhouses and bathrooms, and back to Omaha. If there’s time we’ll try to do a hike on our freshly maintained trail again before leaving. We should be back to Omaha by about 6:00pm.

Getting There:
We’ll carpool/caravan to the Niobrara Valley Preserve. Carpool arrangements will be made a couple weeks prior to the trip, after the participant list is finalized.

Accommodations and Food:
We will be staying in The Nature Conservancy’s bunkhouses on the property. We will have separate bunkhouses and (modern) restrooms for men and women. Beds are provided, but you’ll want to bring your own sleeping bag and pillow. We encourage you to take the view that food is part of the adventure. Our meals will be healthy, plentiful, and vegetarian-friendly. Trip participants will have the opportunity to take a turn in helping with food preparation or clean up (there is a dishwasher in the kitchen). If you have specific dietary concerns, please let me know when RSVP’ing.

Trip Difficulty:
Participants of all ages are welcome. Participants should be healthy and moderately active. No one will be asked to do more work than they are comfortable with, or to use tools they are uncomfortable with (we only use hand tools). There are jobs for people of almost any ability. The heat could be a concern, but we are working right by the Niobrara river, so we can always take a dip to cool off. If you are interested in the trip, please email me with your name and phone number at I will contact you to discuss the trip further.

Because of the variety of weather in the Sandhills, it is recommended that you pack clothing to accommodate for all kinds of weather. Layers work best so you can shed from cool mornings to warm afternoons. Some other items we suggest that you bring are:
• a phone card for long distance calls – cell phones do not work at the preserve
• sunscreen
• bug repellant (especially for wood ticks)
• sunglasses
• binoculars
• old clothes and clothing that can be layered
• hat
• hiking boots
• Nalgene or refillable water bottle
• extra pair of shoes that can get wet or in sand
• camera and an extra camera battery and/or charger
• flashlight
• jacket
• rain gear
• Swimwear

*You will need to bring your own bedding (sleeping bag and pillow work best), washcloths and towels, toiletries. Participants are also asked to bring any hand tools that they have (bring extras if you have them). Shovels, loppers, pruning saws, pulaskis, etc. Prior to the trip date, I’ll take a census on what we’ll have. Power tools are not allowed.


The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve is one of the largest Conservancy preserves in the U.S., and is a model for grassland management using bison, cattle and fire. Scientific research and education are important at the Niobrara Valley Preserve. The grassland management innovated at the NVP is helping prairie conservation across the Great Plains and as far away as Brazil.

Trip Price:
$40 – This is to cover expenses like food and supplies and the deposit on the bunkhouses. After all expenses are paid, any remaining funds will be given to the Sierra Club – Missouri Valley Group. These funds are used to pay for things like training expenses for current and future outings leaders.

James Phernetton – Besides leading local outings for the Missouri Valley Group, James also leads service trips for the Sierra Club’s National Service Trip Subcommittee. James has completed the Sierra Club’s outdoor leadership training and has certification in Basic First Aid and CPR in addition to Wilderness First Aid certification from the Wilderness Medicine Institute of the National Outdoor Leadership School.

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