19.5-mile segment will be named Chief Standing Bear Trail

The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska will become the new owner of the 19.5-mile former railroad right-of-way between Beatrice and the Kansas state line, according to an agreement with the Nebraska Trails Foundation and the Homestead Conservation and Trail Association.

“We are thrilled to announce that the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska will accept the title to this final portion of the Homestead Trail, once it is completed this fall. This new agreement completes our long awaited, overall vision of providing a continuous 59–mile trail through southeast Nebraska from Lincoln to Marysville, Kansas,” said Ross Greathouse, Vice President of the Nebraska Trails Foundation.

The three-way agreement provides that the Nebraska Trails Foundation will donate the linear trail consisting of 230 acres to the Ponca Tribe, and that this trail segment be maintained by the Homestead Conservation and Trail Association, a nonprofit corporation whose primary purpose is to advocate and support a network of trails throughout Gage County. The Nebraska Trails Foundation will also assist in raising funds for the maintenance of the trail.

The Nebraska Trails Foundation raised nearly $1 million for the design, construction and additional maintenance of the trail segment and has been working since last year to find an entity to accept ownership of the final trail connection.

Click to view hi-res map

Click to view hi-res map

The 19.5-mile trail segment has significant historical value as the former Union Pacific right-of-way follows the route used by Chief Standing Bear and the Ponca Tribe when the tribe was forced to relocate from Niobrara, Nebraska to Oklahoma in 1877. The journey was a forced removal from the Tribe’s homeland, and several died enroute including Standing Bear’s daughter, Prairie Flower, who was buried near Milford. The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska plans to name the trail “Chief Standing Bear Trail.”

“On behalf of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, I would like to thank the Nebraska Trails Foundation for their generous gift. The trail itself is a reminder of a tragic time in our tribe’s past, a past that still resonates with us today. However, in spite of that past, our tribe is thriving today and looks toward the future that honors our ancestors and provides hope for our youth. This trail does exactly that. Our hope when people use this trail is that they will take time to reflect on the tragic history that is tied to it, but also think of the beauty that the trail provides in its updated state. Thank you again for this honor,” said Tribal Chairman Larry Wright, Jr.

The Homestead Trail currently follows an abandoned railroad corridor between Lincoln and Beatrice, through the communities of Princeton, Cortland and Pickrell. The Homestead Trail was completed in 2012 through a partnership with the Nebraska Trails Foundation, the City of Beatrice and the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District.

Nebraska Congressman Jeff Fortenberry has introduced a bill in Congress to have the Chief Standing Bear Trail declared a National Historic Trail. The bill has passed in the House and awaits passage in the Senate.

The Homestead Trail currently ends in downtown Beatrice at the Gage County Historical Society and Museum. The museum is the restored Burlington Railroad Depot Passenger Station that was originally built in 1906. The Homestead National Monument, for which the currently completed trail is named, is another short ride along Hwy. 4 from Beatrice. The City of Beatrice is in support of building the 2-mile segment through the city to E. Belvidere Drive, where it will connect to the new 19.5-mile trail segment.

When the final 19.5-mile segment is finished this fall, the trail will be one of the longest rail-trail conversions in the region. The Blue River Rail Trail already occupies the southern end of this corridor from the state line to Marysville, Kansas. Trail users will be able to travel uninterrupted from downtown Lincoln, Nebraska to Marysville, Kansas along an impressive network of trails.

“This is an opportunity of a lifetime for our area. This trail corridor will provide health benefits to our residents and boost our economy by attracting visitors to the Beatrice area community,” said Gale Lueth, Homestead Conservation and Trail Association leader. The entire trail will connect Cortland, Pickrell, Beatrice, Blue Springs, Wymore and Barneston or more than two-thirds of the population of Gage County.

Lueth added, “We welcome the opportunity for a long term relationship with the Ponca Tribe. Our cultural richness will be enhanced as we all become better informed about our Nebraska history going back to the Chief Standing Bear story.”