GERING – Although cornfields are a great thing, there’s a lot more to western Nebraska than the flatland along the Interstate.
“Our goal is to get people off the Interstate to see the real Nebraska,” said Karla Niedan-Streeks, executive director of the Gering Tourism Bureau. “When they do, people are genuinely surprised this isn’t the Nebraska they thought it was.”
Two travelers from Yukon, Oklahoma, agreed. Shery Rogers said they expected flatland, but found the hills beautiful, although it was only for a short stay.
Shery and her husband Jay were on their way home from a trip to the upper Midwest when they stopped at Robidoux RV Park in Gering for the night.
The next day, they were headed toward Dodge City, Kansas.
“This is our first trip to the local area as we usually plan one vacation a year,” Jay said. “This is the longest trip we’ve had. We usually stay two or three days before we move on.”
This year’s trip for the Rogers took them north from Oklahoma into Kansas, ending up in South Dakota to see Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands and sites along the way.
Niedan-Streeks said the Rogers’ reaction is common, as lots of people aren’t aware of just how varied the western Nebraska landscape is.
“When people get off the Interstate and get onto the backroads, they’ll see an entirely different Nebraska,” she said. “All of the visitors I’ve talked with have been pleasantly surprised.”
As the summer travel season winds down, what Niedan-Streeks calls the “shoulder season” begins. It runs from September to about November and again from March to around Memorial Day.
It’s not called the “off season” because it’s still a busy travel time, only with different travelers.
“Shoulder season travel in our area has been increasing for several years,” Niedan-Streeks said. “Those who travel then tend to be older, retirees and Baby Boomers. The kids are back in school so we see less of the family travel we see during the summer.”
Older travelers usually take to the road during shoulder season because it’s less congested and the weather is cooler. There are usually better gas prices, travel deals and hotel rates at that time.
The 2017-2018 tourism set a record for lodging tax in the state.
“We’ve seen a lot more people visiting this summer than we’ve seen during a lot of summers,” Niedan-Streeks said. “I’m sure some of that was due to the total solar eclipse we had in the fall of 2017.”
The eclipse event brought thousands of visitors from the Colorado Front Range and other places from around the world. Judging from letters received by tourism staff, all those visitors were impressed with the hospitality they received during their stay as well as the area’s scenic beauty.
“When we talked with those eclipse visitors last August, they told us they’d be coming back,” Niedan-Streeks said. “We’ve seen that throughout the summer.”
She added the area’s tourism professionals have been working for a number of years encouraging Colorado residents to see our area as a place to visit.
“Some of them come for just a weekend and some of them come for eight or nine days,” she said. “We continue to get the word out because the Front Range area is our primary market. It’s a short drive away, but we have a lot of great things for them to see and do.”