Barn enjoys banner year

Tourism continues to be a growing industry in the state of Nebraska, and when it comes to visitors Custer County has its fair share. The Custer County Tourism Council, under the direction of Chard Hirsch, has completed the 2012 final report for “The Red Barn” travel center - and the numbers are very encouraging. The Barn, technically the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway Interpretive Center, opened for its fourth season May 1, and closed Sept. 30, 2012. Visitors and travelers during the 183 days the Barn was open totaled 4,189 - up almost 10 percent from last year. Many of those were return visitors. “We were given the opportunity to open early for the meeting of Fair Board Members and Managers from the western region, which runs from Grand Island to Alliance,” says Hirsch. “We were happy to welcome more than 50 visitors, even though the Barn did not officially open for another two and a half weeks.” All 50 states were represented in the guest book in 2012, with multiple visitors from most states. Hirsch says this, too, is a large increase over past years. However, while an increase was seen in the number of U.S. visitors, the number of foreign countries having visitors to the Barn decreased, with only three visitors this year from Europe. During the 183 days the Barn was open, more than 4,000 hours were donated by 29 volunteers, with 12 of those volunteering one half-day once a month. Improvements and Additions Rick Maas of Broken Bow, and his grandson, designed and constructed an outdoor kiosk, filled with information about Sandhills flora, fauna and feathered friends. A portion of the Barn was also repainted, by the Mills’ from Mason City. The drought that plagued Nebraska in 2012 even had an effect on the Barn. “Despite attempts to keep it filled, Lake Accidental disappeared into an accidental puddle,” Hirsch said. Even with that, however, Hirsch says many of the return travelers remarked about the great change in the landscaping and how wonderful everything looked - in spite of the heat. “This is a great tribute to Rick (Maas) and his mower, and to Stan and Nancy Sedlacek (mostly Stan) and their spades and spray in reducing the weed population,” says Hirsch. “Quite honestly, the outside shows the growth of four years, lots of water and volunteer helpers.” Two air conditioners, purchased by the Custer County Tourism Council (CCTC), were installed in the loft of the Barn, but on very hot days offered little relief. “We changed our mind about encouraging visitors to view the loft unless they were either brave or insane,” says Hirsch. A grant from CCTC was used to purchase new and old furniture for indoor seating at the Barn. More than 25 cases of ice cold water was distributed by the Barn’s volunteers throughout the season, along with more than $260 worth of candy. Hundreds of free post cards picturing the great photographers who reside in the Sandhills were also given out - along with hundreds of brochures, maps and information folders. “All of this was greatly appreciated by our visitors who expressed their appreciation for the friendliness and assistance given by the volunteers,” Hirsch proudly adds. “In all honesty, our volunteers who spend all these hours without pay and do it for the pleasure they receive, show how much they really like their job. And it shows in the calendar already set up for the 2013 season, with about 95 percent already filled. Talk about volunteers...we’ve got ‘em!” The Barn will celebrate its fifth anniversary in 2013, an event Hirsch says they are all very excited about.