Westerholt left distinct imprint

Duane Westerholt leads a canoe group of Know Nebraska tourists down the Calamus River in Loup County, Neb., during the 1980s.

Duane Westerholt spent much of his career creating access. If you've driven to a Nebraska state park, been in a canoe or on a bike, you might want to say thanks.

His reply would be to mention all the people that had a hand in the projects. Humble, Westerholt isn't looking for praise.

“Everything was a group effort,” Westerholt said. “It's the nice thing about the agency (Nebraska Game and Parks Commission).”

Westerholt wore many hats at Game and Parks. He was an artist and the art director for Nebraskaland Magazine. He was a popular guide for the Know Nebraska tours while in the Information and Education division. Moving to administration in 1994, Westerholt fought for funds to create and maintain state park roads. And since 2002 he has spent countless hours mapping Nebraska's rivers and helping to build the Cowboy Trail as the acting state trails director. All the while, Westerholt has worked with the tourism department to help promote the state's assets.

In his tenure as the acting trails director, 195 miles of trail were finished, including 221 bridges, Westerholt said.

“If you lay all the bridges end to end it would be three and a half miles long,” Westerholt said.

In almost 40 years at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Westerholt managed to canoe all but one the state's rivers.

Highly skilled in a canoe, Westerholt loved going to work. Especially when it meant working in the field.

“I was lucky to be able to spend time in the areas that we worked on,” Westerholt said after retiring from the commission at the end of 2012.

Roger Kuhn, Nebraska State Parks director, worked with Westerholt in administrative duties. He found Westerholt to be a bulldog in fighting for funding and a great advocate for the state.

“Any area, any season, Duane has invaluable experience and knowledge of the state,” Kuhn said.

Kuhn said while much of the work done in the office can be somewhat lacking in excitement, there is a huge payoff in the end.

“When you get an administrative role, the payoff is when you go out and you know you were involved and get to see the people enjoying the fruits of your labor,” Kuhn said.

Most of Westerholt's work has been behind the scenes, but his artwork has been seen by many during his years at Nebraskaland Magazine.

“Duane is a fabulous artist,” said Greg Wagner, public information officer for Game and Parks.

Two pieces of Westerholt's artwork, a painting of a pheasant and another of a whitetail deer, were used for the inaugural years of the Nebraska Upland Game Habitat Stamps.

Two days after retirement, Westerholt was on the ski slopes with his granddaughters. He plans to spend as much time as he can with his family, including his mother, Evelyn, who still loves to golf at age 87, and his son Max, daughter-in-law Terra and their three children.

And he is already thinking of getting in a canoe and having an adventure on the Republican River, the last river on his list.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1378, mark.davis@owh.com

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