A Nebraska Single Track Primer
By Guitar Ted
Nebraska: Yeah, you know….that “fly over” state. That state that everyone on I-80 wishes was about 399 miles shorter. That “Nebraska” is what most people think of when they are presented with the idea of bicycling there. Well, those who have been there, live there, and more importantly, have ridden there, know a lot better than that. I’ll admit, I’ve had my eyes opened to a new way of thinking about Nebraska as a place to ride off road, that’s for sure.
My education in cycling in Nebraska started in 1995 while doing a tour on paved roads from my home state of Iowa. We traversed the northeastern corner of the state and I found it to be a beautiful country of rolling hills. That would be just a foretaste of what was to come much later though.
Fast forward 14 years: I was invited by a Nebraska resident and friend, Matt Gersib, to try out some off road single track in the eastern part of Nebraska near Bellevue. I was to be staying with some friends and decided to take him up on it. So I took my bicycle with me to Nebraska once again. Only this time I was in search of some dirt.
I wasn’t to meet with Matt until Friday, but on Thursday, I found some free time and looked up a local park to explore. Swanson Park, in Bellevue, turned out to be only about a mile from where I was staying, so I pedaled over to check it out. I was not expecting a whole lot, I mean, it is Nebraska, right? So I figured it would be a good little jaunt through a city park and that would be that.
Boy, did I ever get that wrong!
Swanson Park is a great piece of single track sweetness. I was really surprised by how well it was marked and kept up. I found out that the local trail maintenance group, T.H.O.R.(Trails Have Our Respect), was responsible for that and the upkeep of a few other trail areas in and around the Omaha area. Having a trail well marked, clean, and weed free is a big selling point for folks coming from out of state, and Swanson Park measured up on all fronts there
But you have to have good riding too. That is important as well. Swanson Park isn’t a technically challenging trail by any measure, but what it lacks in technical difficulties, it makes up for with fast, swoopy, roller coaster like trails. Guaranteed smile inducing dirt here. I was also pleasantly surprised by a nice ascent into some open prairie. This wide open section was filled with tall grass punctuated by trees here and there, giving a distinctly different feel to the riding experience than you get in the thick canopy of Swanson Park’s wooded sections. I was told later by Matt that this particular section was a reclaimed dump area. That was just a great example of an eyesore turned into a beautiful green space that can be accessed by bicyclists and hikers alike.
Following the prairie section was a fast down hill around the volunteer fire department training area and back into the roller coaster single track hidden under the vast green roof formed by Swanson Park’s trees. It was such a fun loop, I did it twice!
The following day, I met up with Matt and we searched out another little “gem” of single track in the area. Jewel Park is near the Missouri River, and a great, steep hill marked with several ravines was host to another fun single track here. Up, up, up we went on a switch backed trail on to the top of the hill. The tight, twisty trail that included several steep drops and climbs out of ravines, made for a very challenging experience, quite unlike Swanson Park.
Now after having pegged my heart rate at Jewel Park, Matt had one more stop on our single track adventure planned for the day. Platte River State Park, which is just in between Omaha and Lincoln, was the destination. Here horse riders and bicyclists share the trail in a unique arrangement that allows the equestrians use of the trail in the early part of the afternoon until 4:00pm. Then the mountain bikers have the trails all to themselves for the remainder of the day.
“Platte River”, as the locals refer to it, or simply “Platte”, is an awesome network of trail that winds in and out of hills, ravines, and even some open prairie along the Platte River before it meets the Missouri. Matt guided me and another rider that day on the trails which were technically challenging, fast, swoopy, and most of all, a ton of fun. The single track here I would rate as good as or better than anything I have ridden in the nation. It is that good. Yes……in Nebraska!
My conclusion after the two days of riding? I have to come back! I had a blast on the trails I rode on, and I would highly recommend them to anyone coming into the Omaha/Lincoln area. You will find the trails well kept, marked, and clear of blow downs. The access to these areas is easy, and one could feasibly hit all three areas I did in a single day, if you wanted to. I say that you should stay longer and savor each one. I know I wish I could have!
Nebraska off road riding opportunities exists beyond this area as well. In fact, I will be attending a festival in another area of Nebraska in the fall that offers a great single track experience. It is called the Big Wheeled Ballyhoo, and you can come too. Check the website out here at www.bigwheeledballyhoo.com
The 411:The best off road trail information is available on the local T.H.O.R. webpage. There you will find directions and trail maps for all three of the trails mentioned here and others in the area. (Yes! There is much, much more.) Most of the single track I rode in Nebraska is all accessible from Bellevue, Nebraska’s oldest city. There are several motels and lodging choices in the area that you can base your operations out of. The Lincoln and Omaha areas are also a great place for restaurants, entertainment, and other recreational opportunities. Omaha and the surrounding area also has an excellent paved trail network as well, if you are wanting a more “civilized” cycling experience. More information on the Metropolitan Area Trails Network can be found here:. http://www.bellevuenebraska.com/Parks-Rec.aspx
More Information on Platte River State Park can be found here: http://www.ngpc.state.ne.us/parks/guides/parksearch/showpark.asp?Area_No=224
You can find out more about the great state of Nebraska and the things to do and places to stay at the
official Nebraska Tourism site: http://www.visitnebraska.gov/