If you are driving on Highway 12 across from the Niobrara State Park in Nebraska, you will see the new scenic overlook, with its beautiful view of the Niobrara River as it flows into the Missouri River. And if you walk out on the overlook, you’ll find four new interpretive signs that teach about the wildlife on the river; how the bridge was rebuilt after the bomb cyclone of 2019; the sacredness of the area to the Ponca People; and how the two important rivers come together. The Friends of the Missouri National Recreational River was instrumental in organizing the collaboration that made this overlook, ramp, and signage possible.
When the bomb cyclone destroyed the Mormon Canal Bridge, it cut off access and services to the Village of Niobrara and forced people in the area to detour at least 70 miles. The storm also destroyed the only recreational access to the Niobrara River and to this part of the Missouri National Recreational River system. The Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) began the immediate construction of a temporary bridge, but public recreational river access was overlooked in the rush to complete the bridge. If NDOT didn’t include some form of recreational river access in their long-range planning, there might be not other opportunity.
It was at this point that the FOMNRR organization and its coalition-building skills stepped in. FOMNRR took the lead in reaching out to relevant agencies, organizations and individuals, and by December, 2019, a strategy had been developed in which the excess material used in the temporary bridge crossing could be repurposed and placed as road material to build a new public access to the Mormon Canal from Niobrara State Park.
The canoe/kayak launch, overlook, and parking have been constructed. Four interpretive panels were installed in September, 2022. The design of the overlook and signage was a partnership between Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and Nebraska Department of Transportation.
The overlook, interpretive signs, ramp, and parking are part of the Niobrara State Park. There is an entrance fee for the park.