I just completed a series of tours of facilities that are part of The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District’s hydropower-irrigation project. In fact, I was leading tours on seven of ten work days over a recent two-week period.
That in itself is not news. Organizing and leading tours of the project is part of my job, a part that I greatly enjoy, and it was just happenstance that the tours were all scheduled so closely together. Such tours are a valuable part of our public relations tool box. You can look at maps, diagrams and videos, but nothing beats “boots on the ground.”
As an aside, I’ve often wished that I had kept track of how many project tours I’ve personally been part of over the last 28 years, but sadly, neglected to do so. I’m guessing that it’s around 200.
Groups that have toured Central’s project are incredibly diverse. Space does not permit a listing of the many different kinds of groups and organizations who made the trip to Lake McConaughy and back, but they range from irrigation customers and cabin owners to representatives of governmental agencies and local service clubs.
Participants have come from across the state and from all over the world. We’ve had visitors from Africa, Asia, South America and Europe. There’ve been politicians, political candidates and professors; senior citizens in life-long learning programs and students in law school, graduate school and high school. We’ve hosted groups from environmental organizations, members of the media, and Extension educators from across the state. And on and on.
But it’s not the number of groups that have toured the project over the years that sticks out, it’s the hundreds of interesting people who make up those groups.
One such person was Harold Stevens, the late Dawson County Extension agent, who was far more than just a tour participant. Working with Central personnel, he organized what he called “5-O-5 tours.” The name came from the plan for the tour to depart from Lexington at 5 a.m., and return the same day at 5 p.m.
His tours began in the 1950s when Harold would string together a caravan of vehicles and visit facilities operated by Central, the Platte Valley Public Power and Irrigation District (which merged with two other public power entities to become the Nebraska Public Power District) and other area irrigation companies.
At the time, Kingsley Dam, Lake McConaughy, the hydroelectric plants, and the canal systems and reservoirs were still relatively new on the scene, wonders of modern engineering that attracted visitors from across the region.
A few decades later, the caravans – which were assembled once or twice a year – were replaced by Central’s passenger van and traversed the route two or three times each summer. At some point in the 1990s, Harold was reminded that, given the dwindling rural population of the state and changing habits, fewer and fewer people were around who knew what it meant to get out of bed before 5 a.m.
It took some convincing, but we were eventually able to persuade him to re-name the tour, calling it the “7-O-7 tour.” The change in timing helped continue to populate the tour and Harold kept at it until he had organized and participated in 104 “5-O-5 / 7-O-7” tours. His last tour took place in 2003, only months before he passed away at the age of 85.
At one time, it was common for Central to conduct two-day tours simply because there are a lot of miles to travel and many interesting sights to see. The end of the first day found the groups at Jeffrey Lodge, where a boat cruise on Jeffrey Lake, a steak dinner and continued discussion of any number of current topics awaited.
In today’s busy world, it seems that potential tour participants are reluctant – or unable – to escape their day jobs for two whole days. One-day tours – kind of like Stevens’ “7-O-7 tours” – are now the most common. And that’s a shame because we’re unable to really take in the whole project in a single day, simply because of the time constraints and distances involved.
But that leads to my point. We still offer tours of the project. Put together a group of nine or 10 folks who might be interested, arrange a date or dates that work and we’ll take care of the rest. It won’t cost you a dime, other than the cost of traveling to our front door.
There’s much to see and experience. And then you can become part of another group full of interesting people who have toured the Central District’s hydro-irrigation project.