Excerpt from Senator Ben Nelson's speech at the Launch of the
Lewis and Clark Bicentennial
January 15, 2003, Charlottesville, Va.
It might be strange for some people who studied Lewis and Clark
in elementary school to hear about their journeys through Nebraska
and, in fact, to hear that Nebraska was among the new land acquired
from the French by Thomas Jefferson, but in 1804 these adventurers
and observers first charted for the American government the currents
of Nebraska's rivers and the scope of Nebraska's plains.
In their search for river passage further west, William Clark observed
that the Niobrara River of Nebraska was unnavigable -- it was a
bit too intrepid for our intrepid explorers.
The Niobrara River posed different challenges for the people of
Nebraska just a decade ago. Then it was threatened by overuse and
unwise development. It seemed likely that the river that had stopped
Lewis and Clark would cease to exist as it had in the memories of
generations of Nebraskans.
But we could not let the opportunity to protect this river pass
us by. As governor, I worked with officials at the state, local
and federal level -- including then-Senator Jim Exon -- to designate
Niobrara as a Scenic River. By seeking the input of those who live
and work alongside the banks of this remarkable river, we were able
to enact statutory protections because all parties understood that
we had a common goal -- creating a lasting natural legacy for future
Nebraskans to enjoy.
While the protection of the Niobrara is an on-going process, it
is important that we continue to seek out new and innovative ways
to keep our American heritage, the land that we love, strong and
secure. Much as Lewis and Clark themselves found when they embarked
across a continent, there is no one-way to reach a destination;
but we always need to be resourceful, flexible, and resilient.
I encourage all of you to come to Nebraska and see the Niobrara
and the sandhills through which it runs -- you'll be glad you did.
When the corps reached the sandhills, you can be sure they were
amazed by the sight of the sandhill cranes that nest on the Platte
River as we all know. Today many national and international tourists
come to central Nebraska to watch the cranes, because this is the
only place in the world where, once every year, almost the entire
population of this species nests in a 25-mile radius. They come
to see hundreds of thousands of sandhill cranes alight at the first
light of day in a cloud that darkens the sky, with haunting calls
that overpower all other sound. It is a breathtaking sight, and
a defining experience ... evoking awe and wonder similar to the
chills Lewis and Clark must have felt in exploring America's wilderness
This is the story Lewis and Clark wrote two hundred years ago and
the story that continues for everyone who is lucky enough to witness
it for themselves.
Let us keep it safe for our children.