First impressions of a Great Plains newcomer

By Jenna Bartja, Adventure Travel Specialist, Nebraska Tourism Commission

I moved to Nebraska on Aug. 25, just shy of 3 months ago. I didn’t have many preconceived notions about the state; to be honest, Nebraska hadn’t really ever crossed my mind. Friends and acquaintances painted a narrow picture of endless cornfields, cold winters, and warm people. So when my husband and I decided to take the leap and move to Lincoln from Grand Canyon, Arizona, I didn’t know what to expect. For me, the unknown is enticing. It beckons me to do what I love best: discover – to seek out the unique landscapes and culture that define a place. Upon arriving to Lincoln, that’s just what we did and, to my surprise, my experience held delight and wonderment around every corner.

We spent our first couple months visiting nearly every public park in Lincoln, trying different restaurants, visiting local museums and attractions, and drooling over the farmer’s market bounties. As we settled into our home and became familiarized with our new surroundings, I began to yearn for adventure beyond our newly formed comfort zone. I wanted to discover other parts of the state. Luckily for me, I had recently been hired to work as an ecotourism consultant for the Nebraska Tourism Commission, putting me in a uniquely poised position to travel the state and get to know its many nature-based assets. On a recent workshop planning trip to Ord, I was able to explore a taste of the state’s agri/eco-tourism offerings by visiting Calamus Outfitters and Comstock Lodge. Yet again, I was astonished at the splendor I found at each locale.

Located on remote and pristine grassland, Calamus Outfitters specializes in Sandhills safaris, bird-watching ecotours, river adventures, and guided hunts, all in addition to maintaining the family’s working ranch. The story of how the Switzers diversified their farm to create a viable livelihood for the family is an inspiring one. Ecotourism manager Sarah Sortum’s words on the subject are practical yet powerful: “When we started out our tourism operation it was solely for another revenue stream. And it has done that for us, it’s helped our family bring the next generation back.” It is a success story that immediately set my mind to work on how I can work to help other landowners across the state create sustainable businesses for the future.

The impressive Comstock Lodge offers opportunities to hunt a wide range of species on their hilly acreage while enjoying comfortable accommodation in their elegant, 10-bedroom construction. The owners are creative with the variety of animals they propagate on their land; the most recent endeavor being to breed bison for specific genetic variances in color. Both the bison and elk herds can be observed from the comfort and warmth of the lodge or its deck, which offers such a breathtakingly beautiful view of the Sandhills that alone would be worth a night’s stay.

Both ranches, with the addition of the dude ranch Rowses 1+1, will be featured as tour bus stops in the 2019 Agri/Eco Tourism Workshop, taking place February 26-28 in Ord, Neb. The annually held conference is an opportunity for small businesses and entrepreneurs to network and gain valuable insights into starting, growing, and marketing a successful agri/eco-tourism business in Nebraska. To learn more, visit