If you’re looking for the hidden gems of Nebraska, you might want to ask Cody Sperl. He’s become a bit of an expert on the state, clocking in a total of 372 towns visited and counting.
Each has its own people and places providing a one-of-a-kind experience, he said.
“A lot of towns I’ve never visited before,” he said. “... In the past year especially, I’ve been to towns I’ve never witnessed: beautiful Victorian homes, beautiful neighborhoods, maybe a beautiful courthouse.
“You kind of forget about those things, and when you see it in person, you know there’s a lot of history that goes back to the 1800s.”
His goal is to visit all of the towns, which he says is about 530, not counting unincorporated areas. He is from the Stanton area and now lives in Omaha, so he’s visited most of the eastern and central parts of the state.
Planning a trip starts with research and a travel notebook. He plans out a route based on towns with points of interest, like a historic town square or an old building.
“I have a notebook where I pre-plan my visits. … I’ll try to write down things that are more historic or stand out in a town,” he said. “... I usually pre-plan that at least a week ahead of time. I research, I go on Google, maybe I’ll type Minden, Nebraska churches or I’ll type the town. I use Google Maps all the time.”
Sperl started his travels about three years ago, shortly after he and his brother, Colton, discussed the idea of visiting different towns in Nebraska during a visit back home in Stanton. Their father, Dennis, who died last year, was very ill at the time.
“We were just kind of talking and actually my brother brought up the idea of it, of visiting all these towns,” he said. “I kind of thought that’d be a great idea … my brother kind of wanted to do it because it’s adventurous, but it got him out of the stress that was going on.”
Colton Sperl, who lives in Kearney, has joined him on trips, including one to the Niobrara region.
Some of Cody Sperl’s favorite places he’s visited showcase Nebraska’s unique history through architecture, including Red Cloud, home of renowned author Willa Cather, and Superior, the Victorian capital of Nebraska.
“(Superior) might be one of my favorite towns. It’s known for its Victorian homes,” he said. “… These are actual 1880s, 1890s homes with big balconies, big columns. They’re kept so nice, they’re beautiful. I’m a sucker for that.”
During his visits, he also photographs sites that catch his eye: cemeteries, churches, old buildings and other landmarks. He posts them to his website and Facebook page “Cody’s Adventurous Travels of Nebraska Towns,” which has gained a following of more than 4,600 people.
His images resonate with Nebraskans and people who have called the state home, including people from Florida and Arizona. Recently, a Marine stationed in California reached out to say the photos help remind him of home.
“In his message, he said it’s a while until he comes home to Nebraska. … He told me (the page is) like a therapy for him,” Cody Sperl said. “It brought back memories of towns where it’s peaceful, it’s quiet rural Nebraska.”
Although he’s not in a rush to finish his project — he travels while working full time at the Hy-Vee fulfillment center in Omaha — his next goal is to expand to western Nebraska and possibly get a digital camera.
While he doesn’t mind longer drives, he said heading west does require a bit more preparation.
“For some people, an hour or 90 minutes away is a lot; for me, it’s not a lot,” he said. “But with Chadron or Sidney, six or seven hours away, I can’t do spur-of-the-moment.”
And a few towns he hasn’t visited yet from north and central Nebraska include Crofton, Verdel, Edgar, Blue Hill and Lawrence.
Two main goals fuel his trips: to be adventurous and gain the skills and knowledge to work at a tourism office.
“I really want to go into local town tourism, the marketing side,” he said. “Maybe there’s Czech days going on in Clarkson. Maybe in Nebraska City, their Applejack Festival. Even in Norfolk, their comedy festival. I would like to work for local tourism and do marketing and social media in hopes that people would come visit our town.”
In the meantime, there are still at least 150 towns left to experience on his quest to see them all.
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Where should he go next?
To see photos from Cody’s travels and reach out, visit “Cody’s Adventurous Travels of Nebraska Towns” on Facebook.