Golden Prairie Bison is run by Carl and Vicki Simmons. We strive to be good stewards of the land and livestock we own and manage near the edge of the largest stabilized sand dune in the world, the Sandhills of Nebraska. We have been in the business of converting the grasses of the Great Plains into beef since Carl’s grandparents homesteaded here in 1914. In about 1997 we reintroduced American Bison (Bison bison) to our lands. For decades we have explained to visitors that, in actuality, we just sell valued-added grasses. Since it has been said that a cubic yard of undisturbed soil is one of the two most biodiverse ecosystems in the world, maybe we should say “we sell value-added microbes.” As much as possible, we husband our bison unfettered, with no antibiotics or hormones and no unnecessary working. In addition to caring for the land, we provide educational tours about prairie ecosystems and camping experiences to visitors.
In 2005, Valentine National Wildlife Refuge was designated a Nebraska Important Bird Area (IBA) by the Audubon Society. The IBA program is an inventory of the key sites within a state that support significant numbers and high diversity of birds. The IBA program is a conservation and education effort of the National Audubon Society and has no regulatory authority. Our application was reviewed by a technical committee which commented on the high diversity of species and the large population of greater prairie chickens found on Valentine National Wildlife Refuge.
The Refuge is also recognized as an Important Bird Area by the American Bird Conservancy (www.abcbirds.org).
In 2012, Nebraska’s Center for Great Plains Studies included Valentine National Wildlife Refuge as one of the Great Plains Top 50 Ecotourism Sites. An ecotourism site is defined as a place primarily devoted to environmental or biodiversity conservation and providing an opportunity for the public to experience nature. Professional naturalists named sites considered to offer the best, most powerful environmental experience or are ones that are ecologically the most important. The Center recognizes the importance of ecotourism in helping nearby communities to thrive economically, increasing public awareness of nature, and generating funding for conservation. More information is available at www.unl.edu/plains. Species Checklist
The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve is one of the largest TNC preserves in the U.S., and a model for grassland management using bison, cattle and fire. It encompasses majestic pine-clad canyons, extensive grasslands, and a 25-mile stretch of the Niobrara River. Visitors can enjoy the beauty of the preserve year-round, and of special interest is the bison herd grazing in the vast open prairie.
PUBLIC USE AREAS
Visitors are welcome to walk the new hiking trail west of the Preserve mailbox (foot traffic only, please). The trailhead includes a small parking area and information kiosk. You have your choice of the long loop or the short loop, both with grand views of the Niobrara River. You may enjoy the Norden chute at the Norden Bridge as well. Fishing is allowed with a Nebraska fishing permit. Please, no diving, camping or campfires.
Ballards Marsh State Recreation Area
Ballards March Wildlife Management Area is about 20 miles south of Valentine, NE on US Highway 83 in the heart of Nebraska’s sandhills. The large marsh and adjacent grasslands are managed by Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. It is a great place to see common birds and wildflowers of the sandhills. Perhaps you will hear a coyote or see the bald eagles which nest in trees just up the road. A free primitive campground is available with room for a half-dozen tents or trailers. There are a couple of picnic tables, fire boxes, a hand-operated water pump and an outhouse. The gravel loop road allows easy maneuvering for trailers. The campground is well shaded by large elms and is a delightful stop for a picnic during the summer. I camped here in late June, and had the place to myself. I was delighted to hear the trill of meadowlarks and the chirp of crickets and see fireflies at night. Staying at Ballards Marsh allows an early start for those who want to fish, hunt or watch birds at Valentine National Wildlife Refuge (about 3 miles to the South on Route 83).
Consists of 47 lakeside acres plus a 800-acre Sandhills lake. Whooping cranes and sandhill cranes have been seen here during fall migration.
Trumpeter swans forage on a marsh just north of this park, which is a working cattle ranch.
Cottonwood Lake State Recreational Area
Canada geese breed here. Five miles east of Merriman is a marsh where trumpeter swans have nested, off the north side of U.S. Highway 20.
Ft. Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge
The Niobrara River flows eastward across the refuge for 9 miles, cutting deep canyons into the limestone rocks that underlie the Sandhills. Waterfalls occur where seeps and springs flow over layers of hard rock. Over 230 species of birds have been seen here, including Sharp-tailed Grouse, Greater Prairie-Chickens and Burrowing Owls. The refuge, located 3 miles east of Valentine, also maintains herds of bison and elk Species Checklist
Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area
This 9053-acre park with 2906-acre reservoir is located about 26 miles southwest of Valentine on Highway 97. It is adjacent to Nebraska National Forest land to the north and attracts a variety of migrant waterfowl, pelicans, western grebes, and other species. Species Checklist
Smith Falls State Park
Cross the Niobrara River on a footbridge and walk through the wooded canyon on a boardwalk to the falls in this park located 3 miles west and 4 miles south of Sparks. It has excellent riverside woodland birding. Species Checklist
Valentine’s newest addition. The Cowboy Trail trailhead on main street will greet you with these adorable bikes. Rent 1 for a couple hours. Follow the cowboy trail out East of town to the railroad bridge or just downtown to do some shopping. Valentine Bike share is the first of it’s kind being the most rural bike share in state.
The Cherry County skies are a canvas of the brightest stars you have ever seen. The lack of light pollution and the tranquil and quiet surroundings make it the ideal place view the night sky. This is why Merritt Reservoir south of Valentine has been home to the Nebraska Star Party for over 25 years. Come see for yourself.
The Sandhills of Nebraska, the quiet beauty of the state. Covering 19,000 square miles, it is the largest tract of stabilized sand dunes in the Western Hemisphere. Considered an inhospitable desert by early settlers, the Sandhills instead proved to be prime rangeland for raising cattle. The lush grasslands are nourished by the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest groundwater sources in the world. The grassy hills rise up to 400 feet and can be as long as 20 miles. While other parts of the world scream beauty, the Sandhills whisper.
Nestled in the Sandhills and bordering Merritt Reservoir, this 115,000-acre forest offers many outdoor activities. The word forest is used somewhat loosely in this case, as only 5,000 acres of the forest are actually wooded. The remaining 110,000 acres are rolling sandhills. The area is open to hunting in season, offering excellent upland game bird, waterfowl, and deer hunting. Hiking, biking, fishing, and bird watching are also popular in this area. Steer Creek Campground offers beautiful and secluded campsites in the pines of the forest.
The Prairie Club, just 17 miles south of Valentine, offers two world class golf courses plus a challenging par 3 course called the Horse Course. The Dunes Course, designed by golf pro Tom Lehman, is a tribute to all the links style courses he has played in his career.
Set in the rolling Sandhills, this course offers a challenge to all levels of golfers with wide fairways, an array of sand traps, and natural grasses of the hills for the rough. If you enjoy a course with more trees, the Pines Course weaves in and out of the Snake River valley with many spectacular vistas along the way. The Prairie Club Lodge has great dining, a golf shop, and overnight accommodations. The course is semi-private but avid golfers always have a chance to experience these beautiful courses.
This 72,000-acre refuge is set in a beautiful combination of rolling sandhills and pristine spring-fed lakes. Nine of the lakes are open to fishing year-round, offering bass, northern pike, perch, and bluegill. Fishing hours are sunup to sundown, and only electric motors are allowed. The refuge is also home to great hunting habitat and is well-known for its sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chicken populations. Deer, pheasant, and waterfowl hunting are allowed in season. Waterfowl hunting is limited, so check with the refuge for its game regulations.
If just enjoying the peace and quiet is what you prefer, there is plenty of space for hiking, including a self-guided interpretive trail. Spectacular bird watching awaits as well. During their annual migration, thousands of ducks and geese stop to feed. In April and May, photo blinds are placed on prairie chicken and sharp tailed grouse booming grounds.