LINCOLN — JoAn Schlotman remembers when a figure in the national news media referred to Chief Standing Bear Memorial Bridge as the “Bridge to Nowhere.”

On Thursday, the tribal council representative for the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska District 1, which includes Knox County, had an opportunity to talk to members of the Nebraska Legislature about how wrong the former NBC news anchor was.

“Our tribe has been there for many, many years. It’s our homeland. It’s where Chief Standing Bear came back from Oklahoma. There’s a lot of history and culture up there that goes unnoticed,” Schlotman said. “People don’t know about it.”

Schlotman was one of many who gave testimony at a public hearing of the Natural Resources Committee in favor of Legislative Bill 1023 — the Lake Development Act and Water Recreation Enhancement Act.

Among its details, LB 1023 would replace a boat access facility along the Niobrara River to provide access to hunting and fishing, construct an event center and lodge at Niobrara State Park and provide for a major expansion of the Weigand Marina on the Nebraska side of Lewis & Clark Lake.

Schlotman said she believes LB 1023 would provide a number of benefits that would boost awareness of the area and tourism to Knox County, as well as create an attraction that would help draw and retain youths.

“I want that to be a bridge to somewhere,” she said of the span that stretches across the Missouri River. “I want that to be the bridge to Knox County.”

Her sentiment was echoed by Niobrara village clerk Mona Weatherwax, who said her community lives by the four seasons — turkey, duck, deer and summer fishing and boating. She spoke specifically of the benefits of constructing the proposed lodge and event center at Niobrara State Park when she added, “Perhaps now we could add two new seasons — conference season and wedding season.”

Weatherwax said the timing is right for such development to take place as the pandemic has led more people to take an interest in visiting and moving to the area from larger cities.

In speaking about river access, Weatherwax said the village would support “any effort” the state would take to replace the ferry boat access lost in the 2011 flood and the main Niobrara boat dock access it has been losing since the 2019 floods.

“New river access is also vital to the Niobrara area,” she said. “Niobrara has been a river city since the early steamboat days. It’s part of our identity and our lifeblood.”

Kelly Hanvey, director of economic development in Knox County, said the projects of LB 1023 would be transformative not only to her county, but all of Northeast Nebraska.

“The village of Niobrara will be enhanced not only for the residents that are there now, but the ones to come and the increased tourism that will come out of that area,” she said.

Hanvey also spoke about the proposed expansion of the Weigand Marina on the Nebraska side of Lewis & Clark Lake.

“If we were to expand it by five to six times, restaurants and amenities, concessionaires and vendors would pop up and abound,” she said.

Eunice Palu, a Knox County resident who spoke on behalf of the “Friends of Knox County,” said the area is located within one and three hours of some of the most populous areas in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota.

Palu said South Dakota has reported that the Lewis & Clark Lake region attracts more than 2 million visitors each year, which means a built-in base of repeat visitors to whom improved Nebraska offerings could be marketed is readily available.

“There’s a great demand for boating slips at Weigand, which is part of what this proposal brings,” she said.

Eric Schroeder, a member of the Creighton City Council, said the project is a “slam dunk” for northern Knox County, as well as the state of Nebraska.

The marina on the Nebraska side of Lewis & Clark Lake has only 122 slips and a waiting list so long that new requests are no longer taken. The expansion proposed in the bill would increase the number of slips by five to six times.

Schroeder spoke about his personal experience as a boater who is forced to dock on the South Dakota side of the lake because there is no room at Weigand Marina. Schroeder also has a permanent campsite on the South Dakota side because of the convenience of proximity to his boat.

“That side of the lake continues to develop and flourish while the Nebraska side of the lake continues to squander the ample opportunities for economic growth,” he said.

Schroeder said Nebraska needs to look no further than “our neighbors to the east” and Iowa Great Lakes as an example of how to proceed.

“The key is to seek economic growth while maintaining the natural beauty of the area,” he said. “This project maintains that delicate balance. The goal is to help elevate these recreational areas to the level our surrounding states do and level the playing field for the ecotourism dollars.”

In other news

DETROIT (AP) — A tax credit of up to $7,500 could be used to defray the cost of an electric vehicle under the Inflation Reduction Act now moving toward final approval in Congress. But the auto industry is warning that the vast majority of EV purchases won’t qualify for a tax credit that large.

The public is invited to attend an upcoming meeting of a regional governmental body based in Madison County at which tax dollars may be spent.

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — In a growing challenge to Russia's grip on occupied areas of southeastern Ukraine, guerrilla forces loyal to Kyiv are killing pro-Moscow officials, blowing up bridges and trains, and helping the Ukrainian military by identifying key targets.

A 22-year-old Norfolk man is in the Madison County Jail facing a range of charges following a lengthy standoff Saturday and reportedly shooting at a residence in central Norfolk around 6 a.m. Saturday.