Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway Gains National Designation, Sod House Coming to Red Barn 

Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway Gains National Designation, Sod House Coming to Red Barn 
A ribbon cutting on April 30 to celebrate the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway gaining national designation. Photo at the Red Barn in Broken Bow.

BROKEN BOW—The beauty of the sandhills has earned national recognition via the Sandhills Journey National Scenic Byway (SJNSB) for its natural and cultural qualities. The national designation from National Scenic Byway Foundation brings the total number of America’s Byways to 184 in 48 states.

The public gathered at the SJNSB Visitors Centers—AKA Red Barn—on the east edge of Broken Bow on Friday, April 30 to celebrate the national designation with a ribbon cutting.

The National Scenic Byway Foundation is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization serving as The National Voice of Scenic Byways and Roads, dedicated to strengthening Byways and actively involved in the quest for renewed Byway Federal funding. It is the vision of the National Scenic Byway Foundation that our nation’s Byways will be recognized and valued worldwide for their distinctive experiences, stories and treasured places.

Custer County Tourism Secretary Rick Maas told KCNI/KBBN this milestone has been a long time coming and will benefit central Nebraska in terms of tourism and scenic conservation.

“It took a lot of work from several volunteers. Jim Varney here locally helped a lot. Twila Phillips from Mullen, our secretary for the byway, did a lot of work. I mean she did the bulk of it and needs to be commended and then several ladies and others were on the committee that worked on it,” Maas said.

Volunteers made an attempt in 2000 to get national designation but it fell through. The dedicated residents of the sandhills persevered and now the Sandhills Journey National Scenic Byway is one of two in Nebraska designated by America’s Byways. The other is the Lincoln Highway Scenic and Historic Byway.

“It’s supposed to be helpful to the economy, draw more tourists, and just add to the dollars they leave when they travel through so that’s the hope,” Maas said.

L-R Tammy Hendrickson (Custer County Museum), Andrew Ambriz (Custer Economic Development Corporation), Mike Evans (Custer County Tourism), Rick Maas (Custer County Tourism), Terri Licking (Sandhills Journey National Scenic Byway), Sarah Sortum (Nebraska Tourism Commission) break ground for sod house to be built at the Visitors Center (Red Barn) in Broken Bow.

In addition to the ribbon cutting, Terri Licking thanked the crowd for attending and recognized several volunteers including Stan Sedlacek. A ground breaking took place to celebrate the beginning of a sod house project that has been a topic of discussion for many years. Rick Maas said Custer County Tourism Chair Mike Evans has the initiative and enthusiasm to get the sod house project completed.

“This county is famous for being the sod house capital of the world. So the visitors center for basically our county–even though it’s for the whole byway–should have a sod house to show. So we’re going to see what we can put together!” Maas said.

Sod houses–earth-based structures symbolic of early Great Plains homesteaders—varied in size and the amount of soil bricks required to build them. The sod house at the Red Barn will be approximately 12’ by 16’ and construction will start late summer/early fall. Maas said the sod house will not be big or fancy but will require lots of volunteer labor.

Nebraska Tourism Commissioner for the sandhills district Sarah Sortum said tourism is coming back in 2021 in a big way and appreciates “the people that make it happen. It’s lucky for Nebraska tourism!”

Guests during Friday’s event enjoyed a beautiful evening, drinks, and snacks provided by local sponsors: Custer Economic Development Corporation, Broken Bow Chamber, SJNSB Visitor Center Committee, Grocery Kart of Broken Bow, Mileta Vista Winery of St. Paul, Kinkaider Brewing Co., Custer Co. Tourism, and the Sandhills Journey National Scenic Byway organization.