Gage County officials are supporting plans to add access points to the Big Blue River in an attempt to boost tourism.
The County Board of Supervisors last week approved a visitor improvement grant for $30,000 that would build an access point to the river in Beatrice.
Gage County Tourism Director Kristin Jensen said the access point is being planned for south of the West Court Street Bridge and would take advantage of a rise in popularity of recreation activities, which have seen additional growth in the last year as people looked for outdoor activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This would be a really big deal for us because here in Gage County for tourism we have a lot of historical museums and things like that, but recreational tourism is really popular right now,” she said. “Especially on top of COVID, everyone is really big into that right now. In the future that would be a really good thing for us.”
Jensen added that river access points would cut down on the problem of people accessing the river illegally from private property.
“We have the river here in town which is a big attraction for people locally for fishing and kayaking and those types of things, but If you’re coming from out of town you definitely need to have a local connection to do those things legally,” she said. “This project would be aimed at creating that infrastructure for water access so it would be safe and legal for our visitors.”
Beatrice City Administrator Tobias Tempelmeyer said the project previously went out for bids, though costs came back higher than anticipated. Officials are looking into additional funding sources or changing the scope of the project to allow for its completion. They are hopeful it will be done by the end of the year.
Michael Sothan, director of Main Street Beatrice, added that once the Beatrice access point is established, other communities would likely follow with similar additions.
“We’re already starting to make plans with the village of Blue Springs and others to see this expanded upon,” he said. “This is something that we want to see start here in Beatrice that will hopefully carry out to other parts of the county. That’s definitely something that’s important to note.”
Sothan added that the access point and dock would be engineered to resist flooding, and damage from a flood would be minimal.
County Board Chairman Erich Tiemann said the project could boost tourism in the area. He said the money will come from lodging tax funds, which are earmarked for projects related to tourism and lodging.
“I think there’s a lot of things coming in the next few years here for the river,” Tiemann said. “This could be a starting point, not just for kayaks, but the different types of recreation that can be used here. Instead of a dirty little area down by the river, we want to make it a vibrant, nice area.”