Crane Capital of the World

Thousands of vehicles on Interstate 80 pass the sign that Roger Jasnoch erected one mile east of Kearney’s I-80 interchange after he decided to promote Kearney as the ‘Crane Capital of the World.’ Jasnoch recently was reappointed by Gov. Pete Ricketts to the Nebraska Tourism Commission.

LINCOLN — The man who coined Kearney as the Sandhill Crane Capital of the World, Roger Jasnoch of the Kearney Visitors Bureau, has been appointed to the Nebraska Tourism Commission by Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Also appointed to a state panel is a Kearney city councilman who is fascinated by Nebraska’s native insects. Jonathan Nikkila will serve on the Nebraska Invasive Species Council.

Jasnoch, the executive director of the Kearney Visitors Bureau, was appointed by Ricketts to a second four-year term on the Nebraska Tourism Commission.

The panel sets the direction for tourism promotions and uses the $7 million-per-year proceeds of the statewide 1-percent lodging tax to spread the word about Nebraska’s highlights. Jasnoch said the $7 million doesn’t go far.

“Part of the long-term goal is to see if we can garner more resources for tourism promotion,” he said.

Jasnoch said the state’s new slogan — “Honestly, Nebraska Is Not for Everyone” — has been controversial at home, but it’s getting attention outside the state, and that’s what matters.

“It was not surprising because they (tourism marketing firm) had done focus groups and really laid the stage that we had to shock people into discovering Nebraska,” he said

Nebraska ranks near the bottom two or three states in tourism promotion funding. The emphasis has been on attracting visitors from Denver, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Mo., and Des Moines, Iowa. The next target could be Chicago, he said.

Jasnoch said he cannot take all the credit for Kearney’s “Sandhill Crane Capital of the World” label. He said several years ago Bill Taddicken of the Audubon Society’s Rowe Sanctuary near Gibbon remarked about the large number of Nebraskans who were visiting Rowe to view the cranes.

“I said, ‘Bill, we have people coming from all over the world for the cranes,’” Jasnoch recalled. Then the light switched on, and Jasnoch decided to sell Kearney as the epicenter of the sandhill crane migration.

With his appointment, Nikkila said he’s excited about learning more about invasive species. “I kind of geek out on stuff I find very interesting.”

The Invasive Species Council is made up of representatives from organizations that deal with plants and wildlife: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Nebraska Public Power District, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and county weed superintendents.

Nikkila not only has made his backyard a haven for fascinating insects, he has penned a book with info and photos about Nebraska’s native insects and pollinators. The panel he’s been appointed to was formed in 2012 to detect, manage and prevent invasive species across the state and to provide outreach, management and research information to the public.

“It’s a hobby of mine to follow nature issues and learn about plants, animals and insects,” Nikkila said.

Ricketts also appointed Elizabeth Babcock of Broken Bow. She will be on the Nebraska Veterans Advisory Commission.