Crane sanctuary visitor numbers cut in half due to muddy roads

GIBBON, Neb. (KSNB) - Central Nebraska finally saw the Sandhill Cranes make their annual migration. But the migration of tourists didn't go as smoothly.

The Audubon Rowe Sanctuary was fortunate enough to escape the flood waters in March. The gravel road that leads to it did not fare as well.

“It was a difficult year for us,” Director Bill Taddicken said. “I spent a couple nights just pulling people out of the mud. We had buses stuck, we had garbage trucks stuck, cars and vans stuck. It was a real mess at times.”

With the road impassable, the sanctuary had to close for multiple days and most cars couldn't handle the mud. So the number of visitors was cut to 50%. Costing the sanctuary about $200,000.

Staff say the most difficult part is that so many people missed the beloved migration.

“Well that is always kind of hard for us because we do love sharing this and that is part of our mission to share this amazing migration and the platte river with the public,” Taddicken said.

As for the birds, they arrived on schedule the second week of March. They had average numbers of about 659,000 at the peak of the season.

Taddicken said they may have even enjoyed the flood waters since it pushed some of the creatures they eat up to the surface.

“They're used to this. They've been doing it for tens of thousands or longer of years and this is just normal,” Taddicken said.

The sanctuary will have a tight budget but have hopes for a better turn out next year.

Researchers have noticed the cranes have been sticking around later than they normally do and they aren't sure why. But they expect them to leave Nebraska for the season any day now.