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Cowboy Trail

Chadron resident Marina McCreary looks out from a viewing platform built into a bridge which carries the Cowboy Trail over the Niobrara River, southeast of Valentine.

Several miles of the Cowboy Trail will be completed in the coming years, providing recreational opportunities for residents and visitors to Dawes and Sheridan counties.

Cowboy Trail West and Northwest Nebraska Trails Association have secured matching funding for $700,000 in grants from the Nebraska Game and Parks.

The two organizations were offered opportunities to receive the funds from Nebraska Game and Parks last November, but only if they could raise $88,000 each.

A $65,000 grant from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy to be split between the two groups helped put them over their goal ahead of schedule.

The Cowboy Trail will cover 321 miles when completed from Norfolk to Chadron, the longest rail-to-trail conversion in the country. The money raised by the two groups and the Game and Parks grant will complete the trail from Hay Springs to four miles east of Chadron.

The RTC grant was announced just days after the organization announced its vision to complete the Great American Rail-Trail, a 4,000-mile multiuse trail spanning 12 states from Washington, D.C., to Washington state. The Cowboy Trail is a one of the 12 gateway trails for the project. The complete cross-country route will be released later this spring.

“It’s an exciting time for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, as we unveil our long-held vision for the Great American Rail-Trail and take bold action toward its development,” said Liz Thorstensen, vice president of trail development at RTC, in a press release. “The success of the Great American Rail-Trail hinges on success of the many trails it comprises – including the Cowboy Trail. That’s what makes this $65,000 grant so important – paired with local funds raised, it has the potential to unlock hundreds of thou-sands of dollars in state funding that will help complete one of the oldest and longest rail-trails in the country.”

NNTA also received a Greater Good grant and a grant from the Dawes County Travel Board. Cowboy Trail West and NNTA also split LB810 funds that were accessed by Cowboy Trail West several years ago to launch the completion of the western portion of the trail, said NNTA President Brittany Helmbrecht. The groups also received community support from local individuals and organizations. 

The Nebraska Game and Parks will handle the bidding and contracting work for the Cowboy Trail up-grades in the two counties, said Dawes County Travel Board Director Kristina Reeves. The hope is that the work will be completed in 2020 or 2021, she said.

While the project will complete a significant portion of the Cowboy Trail, bringing the trail all the way into Chadron is another matter. There is no existing trail in those last few miles, and the NNTA is working to secure a right-of-way easement from the Nebraska Northwest Railroad in which to build the trail. Fundraising efforts continue in order to be able to accomplish that, said Helmbrecht. It is her hope that the connection from the official end of the Cowboy Trail east of Chadron to downtown Chadron will be completed in the same time frame as the Game and Parks project in Sheridan and Dawes counties.

The public is invited to help the groups celebrate the achievement Feb. 26 at a social from 5-7 p.m. at the Bean Broker in Chadron.

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