KEARNEY — Flooding in 2019 and the pandemic in 2020 are like rocks dropped into a pond.
They spread ripples well into the Central Platte Valley business community near Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary southwest of Gibbon and the Crane Trust near Alda.
The waves of disruption depend on the size of the “rocks.”
A 2017 study by University of Nebraska at Kearney College of Business and Technology researchers estimated that spending by crane season visitors has an annual $14.3 million economic effect in the Central Platte Valley. A 2018 study estimated a crane season draw of 44,000 visitors.
Kearney Visitors Bureau Executive Director Roger Jasnoch said those numbers remain good estimates.
He described differences in 2019 flood impacts that were focused around the Crane Trust and Rowe Sanctuary visitor centers and the ongoing 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year, Jasnoch said, other Kearney attractions saw lower visitation related to canceled Rowe crane viewing tours, but there still was demand for motel rooms.
“This year, there is no demand,” he said, because of the COVID-19 safety concerns. Many Americans have stopped traveling, museums and businesses are closed, and Kearney area events unrelated to crane season have been canceled or postponed, including two weekend wrestling tournaments at the Buffalo County Exposition Center.
The Kearney Visitors Bureau office remains open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Jasnoch said the Crane Capital Passport program through which people can win prizes by collecting stamps at local attractions has been suspended, but will resume for the summer tourism season.
“In 2019, certain areas of our state were more adversely affected because of the flooding than others,” he said. “This year, there’s no rock you can hide under.”
He believes it will take time for people to feel safe to travel again.
“They’re going to have to get their confidence back, to know it’s OK. We don’t know when that will be,” he said.
“Birders are very patient and understanding,” Jasnoch said about a positive sign for Rowe Sanctuary and the Kearney area in the 2021 sandhill crane season. “I don’t think they’re gonna look back at what happened the last couple of years and say, ‘I’m not gonna chance it.’”