RURAL MARQUETTE, Neb. — With a crisp blue Nebraska sky overhead, eagles soaring above the south channel of the Platte River and acres and acres of pristine snow surrounding them, members of the Prairie Plains Resources Institute stood still.
They paused to take a breath after walking down the steep bluffs that encompass the Griffith Prairie and Farm near Marquette and to take in the splendor of Nebraska's natural architecture.
“This is a beautiful way to get exercise and nourish my soul,” said Lynda Ochsner, who has attended the institute's New Year's Day hike every year since the hikes started in 2000.
Her husband, Ernie Ochsner, said the New Year's Day walk was created as part of the Y2K new millennium events. Institute members liked it so much, it has continued as an annual ritual.
Many people don't have the opportunity to experience the prairie, said Bill Whitney, the institute's executive director.
That's why he and his wife, Jan, started the institute in 1980. Jan Whitney is the institute's education coordinator. The office is in Aurora, but the institute's education center is being built on the 390 acres at the Griffith Prairie and Farm, which was purchased with a Nebraska Environmental Trust grant in 2002.
“We need to get people away from their TVs and gadgets and out here enjoying the outdoors,” Bill Whitney said. “The prairie is science, history, literature — it all comes together here.”
The Griffith Prairie and Farm will become a centerpiece for the institute. A historic barn nearby was moved onto the property in 2007 and is being restored as classrooms, lab space and a conference center.