Trail of the Month: December 2005
Steamboat Trace Trail, Nebraska
Lace up your snow boots—this month's trail feature is capitalizing on the winter weather by visiting the great state of Nebraska. Located just 50 miles southeast of Lincoln, the 21-mile Steamboat Trace Trail is the place to be for cooler temperatures and fluffy white snow. Stretching from Brownville to Nebraska City, the Steamboat Trace Trail takes the cake as one of the premier rail-trails in the state. With breathtaking views of the Missouri River, native foliage and an extensive historical background, it entertains all users that traverse its crushed stone path. So, if you are an avid cross-country skier, hiker, bicyclists or history buff, put on an extra layer of clothing and hit the trail.
The Steamboat Trace Trail has designated trailheads in Nebraska City, Peru and Brownville. In order to get to the northernmost trailhead in Nebraska City—the starting point for this virtual tour—travel south from Nebraska City on Highway 75 for approximately one mile. Turn right at the entrance to the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) Nebraska City Power Station on OPPD Road. Just before reaching the Power Station, at the switchyard turn right to go to the Arbor Station Trailhead. Here you will find a large parking lot and plenty of space to unload all equipment, dogs and kids you brought along for the trip.
As you launch into your journey along the Steamboat Trace Trail, take note of its extensive historical roots. According to the Nemaha Natural Resources District (NRD), the government agency that maintains the trail, the Steamboat Trace has been used to move people and goods for centuries. During the 17th and 18th centuries Spanish explorers and Oteo Indians were established in the area and used the trail as a means of traveling to and from trade delegations.
In the 19th century Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery passed through southeast Nebraska, stopping at several locations along the trail. Interestingly enough, Lewis and Clark noted in their journals the same swallow-filled bluffs and rich vegetation still found along the trail today. And as early as 1875, the Midland Pacific Railroad traveled the line from Nebraska City to Brownville carrying people, grain and other products to and from the area.
The current trail has the Cooper Nuclear Station at one end and the coal-fired, Nebraska City Power Station, at the other. The earliest shipments on the rail line included coal that was mined in the area. The final shipments on the line included spent fuel from the Nuclear Station.
From Arbor Station Trailhead, you'll travel south towards Peru for approximately 13 miles. The landscape is a mix of forest bluff, wetlands and farmland. Notice the large deciduous trees that line the first half of the trail—their leaves bring stunning color to the area in the fall and provide shelter to the large population of songbirds in the area. Visit the trail in the wee morning hours to hear a rose-breasted grosbeak, indigo bunting or a white-throated sparrow chirping their song. At Mile 6, visitors will enjoy their first glance of the Missouri River. This massive body of water encompasses more than 500,000 square miles and travels through 10 states. The river loosely parallels the trail from Mile 6 all the way to Brownville and provides gorgeous views throughout the path.
At the Peru trailhead, take a load off at a picnic shelter. This is a great mid-point on the trail, as it also has parking access and restrooms. You can also duck into downtown Peru to grab a bite to eat or visit the historical Peru State College. According to the Nemaha NRD, when Nebraska became a state, the first legislature was debating the location of the state capital—Lincoln or Peru. A compromise was reached wherein Lincoln was named the state capitol and Peru was given the first state college, originally named the Nebraska State Norman School.
From the Peru trailhead, go south toward Brownville for approximately eight miles. This short section is the most popular area along the trail due to its scenic views, so exercise caution when passing other users. As the trail continues to wind along the Missouri River shores towards Brownville you'll see many intricate bluff sandstone artwork carvings—a landmark to let you know the Brownville State Recreation Area, a 22 acre park, is fast approaching. This is where the Steamboat Trace Trail officially ends, but that doesn't mean that you have to call it a day. The Brownville State Recreation Area is a great place to spend the afternoon with places to fish and a museum dedicated to Missouri River history.