The hills, valleys, rivers and lakes of Red Willow County are teeming with wildlife. Greater prairie chickens dance in the hills, and birdwatchers travel from far and wide to witness the spectacle.
Prairie Chicken Dance Tours does all the work of finding the birds and placing a blind so visitors can get a view of the colorful male birds jousting with one another to win over the hens. Plenty of other wildlife usually comes in for the show. Have your cameras at the ready. For information visit prairiechickendancetours.com.
Storytellers and their fans come together each June for the Buffalo Commons Storytelling Festival. When Red Willow County was included in a proposal to turn rural areas with declining populations into an animal preserve called Buffalo Commons, local residents objected. To show that their small but vibrant area had staying power, they created the storytelling festival more than 20 years ago. buffalocommons.org.
Local storytellers from across the United States, musicians, poets and writers converge on many locations across McCook for the weekend. Open mic events at Sehnert’s Bakery and Bieroc Cafe are extremely popular, and it doesn’t hurt one bit that the place has wonderful food. The cafe’s namesake dish, the bieroc, is a homemade roll filled with ground beef and either kraut or cabbage. The cafe is open all year long for McCook residents and visitors and is also home to the Live at the Bieroc Concert Series. 312 Norris Ave. (308) 345-6500.
Stop by the Museum of the High Plains and Carnegie Museum across and up the street from Sehnert’s to get your map of the Heritage Square Walking Tour to find your way to historical properties important to McCook’s past. This McCook museum has one thing that most museums do not: wreckage from the crash of an alien UFO. Well, maybe. Is the translucent green chunk of “glass” an artifact from a UFO that crashed near Benkelman in the late 1800s and was reported by newspapers, or is it end-of-shift leftover glass from a 7-Up bottling plant in North Platte? You can decide for yourself while looking at the museum’s railroad and pioneer history at 421 Norris Ave. (308) 345-3661.
McCook is the home of the only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in Nebraska. The home is a private residence and not open to the public, but it can be seen at 602 Norris Ave.
Former Nebraska Gov. Ben Nelson’s boyhood home is right next door. Look for the bronze statue in the front yard of this home, also on Norris Avenue. Keep heading north to reach the Sen. George W. Norris State Historic Site at 706 Norris Ave. (308) 345-8484. The home of former Nebraska Gov. Frank Morrison is also in this neighborhood.
There are great opportunities for recreation here. Fishing and hiking are popular pursuits at Barnett Park. Feeding the resident flock of geese is a favorite of visitors of all ages. There is a retired Army M60 tank on display, but the only battles here are between geese jostling for crumbs of bread, and sand volleyball players diving for the ball. Five lighted fountains light up the fun. The Republican River flows through this park just off of Highway 83 on the south edge of McCook. (308) 345-2022.
Kelley Park is McCook’s largest park, covering nearly six city blocks. McCook’s city swimming pool is here and so is the popular disc golf course. The Bolles Canyon Skatepark opened here in late 2015. Feel free to grab your board and carve an arc. E. Third St. (308) 345-2022.
Golfers hunting for birdies and eagles take shots at Heritage Hills Golf Course. The 6,700-yard course offers 18 holes along with smooth greens, challenging water hazards and the occasional yucca plant growing in the rough. 6000 Clubhouse Dr. (308) 345-5032.
Fishing poles replace nine irons and putters when anglers cast their lines into Red Willow Reservoir. Fighting at the end of their tight lines may be smallmouth bass, flathead catfish, carp, white bass, walleye, northern pike and other species. Having fish for dinner? The Spring Creek area has fish cleaning stations so you can prepare your catch. Nearly 6,000 acres of recreational land and water offer adventure for outdoor enthusiasts in this scenic area.
The land surrounding the reservoir, as well as the fields, meadows, river bottoms and hills of Red Willow County, host hunters seeking pheasants, mule deer, white-tailed deer, turkeys and a variety of small game. 72718 Trail 2. (308) 345-5899. Animals of another sort draw crowds to the Kiplinger Arena at the Red Willow County Fairgrounds. A variety of equine events draw 30,000 to 40,000 horse lovers to McCook each year.
July in McCook means it is Red Willow County Fair time. This fair is the sort that everyone seems to think of when they think of old-fashioned county fairs: the smell of corndogs and popcorn floating on the air, livestock bawling from the show ring, wide-smiled children proudly clutching purple ribbons and carnival rides lighting the night sky. West Fifth Street. (308) 345-4650.
Learn more about the McCook area by contacting McCook/Willow County Tourism at gotomcook.com and (308) 345-1200 ext. 318.