Although 78-year-old Larry Wewel is passionate about creating a Great Plains National Park in the Valentine area, others are not sure that his idea is a good one.
“It would affect (the community) quite a bit,” said Regina Osburn, director of the Cherry County Visitor Bureau. “I don’t think the public would be keen on it.”
Osburn began her work as director earlier this year but has lived in Valentine for 17 years.
“I know the area and I love the area,” she said. “There are strong opinions on both sides.”
She doesn’t agree with the idea because of the private landowners along the Niobrara River.
“So much of that area has been family-owned for decades,” she said. “I hate to see the family-owned land go to bigger entities.”
One of these community members is Mary Mercure, who owns and operates Brewers Canoers and Tubers, a tubing and canoeing service. The business has been floating visitors down the river for 30 years.
Mercure hopes to see the land continue to be managed either by the state or by current owners.
“People don’t understand how that affects the people who live there,” she said. “Keeping everything in the private sector and in the control of the state just makes sense.”
She also believes that the high levels of government should not be involved in the affairs of small-town Valentine.
“They (the federal government) can’t manage the national parks that they already have, so adding more to it just seems a little bit silly,” she said. “I think it’s kind of a silly thing to think that the feds are going to take care of everything all the time.”
With this being the beginning of the process for Wewel, many people find picturing the park difficult.
“I don’t see the whole picture right now,” Osburn said. “I’m not well-informed of his whole goal. He needs to get further along in his process.”
Like Osburn, Sen. Timothy Gragert believes Wewel needs more of a plan.
“It’s tough for me to know without a business plan,” Gragert said. “You need a deeper understanding of the background and the future to make a decision on something like this.”
His other concern is the lack of recognition or support from the federal government.
“The only thing I can tell you right now is that I don’t see it happening without Deb Fischer,” Gragert said.
U.S. Sen. Fischer, who is from Valentine, did not wish to comment on the proposition for the Great Plains National Park.
“I don’t think it (the national park) will be highly likely if he can’t get the federal government to agree with him,” Gragert said.
Like many people, Gragert believes the outcome of the park could be beneficial, but it would not outweigh the potential problems facing the idea.
“The concept is good but with the reality of certain issues concerning the state right now like property tax, I definitely wouldn’t be with him for the idea right now,” he said.
If the park were to move forward or gain traction with the federal government, Valentine residents would have to make a decision to go along or against the idea.
“I don’t know if he’s talked to the people in the 43rd District to see if they want this to happen, and frankly, I’m not sure if he even cares what they want,” Gragert said.
“If it was a perfect world, we could all play in the parks and that would be great, but it’s not,” Mercure said. “They think it’s for the greater good but in all actuality, it’s not.”