ALMA — A sign along Highway 183 on the northern outskirts of Alma beckons visitors to the Peckerneck Horse Trail.
The story of the trail’s name is partially legend and partially true, said Dave Wolf, founder and volunteer at the trail.
“It’s just a fable about how we were sitting around a campfire and talking about this trail,” said Wolf.
The 13-mile trail lies on the south side of the Harlan County Reservoir. One of the features along the horse trail is a replica of a mine.
The legend is a group of hillbillies from Tennessee came to the mining district in South Dakota in the 1880s. The noise the miners made with the hammers and rock bits used to drill holes reverberated through the tunnels and resembled the sound of a woodpecker. The men were also said to have the strength equal to that of a woodpecker, therefore, they were dubbed “peckerneck.”
Wolf began riding on the trail when he bought a young horse that needed worked out, he said. He began riding three or four times a week.
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“To get my horse in shape I needed a different place to go where I didn’t have to go through fences and open gates. I’m familiar with the property because it lays right alongside property my family owned. I grew up running cattle across it so I’m real familiar with it,” Wolf said.
Wolf and other volunteers began building the trail in 2002. The trail is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and there are four different loops along it. Riders can observe scenic views of the Harlan County Reservoir as well as deer, turkey, eagles and other wildlife.
Riders often will travel from across the region to ride along the Peckerneck Trail. Wolf recalled a benefit ride where more than 60 horse trailers were parked at the head of the trail.
“We have horse clubs come in and all sorts of people come in and ride on that,” he said.
Heavy rains and the lake’s high water levels have left parts of the trail underwater. Wolf expects that as the lake recedes duirng the summer, the trail will be more accessible. He plans to work on spots that need fixed as he is able to access them.
ATVs, dirt and mountain bikes are not allowed on the Peckerneck Trail, but there are many other trail options for ATV enthusiasts in Harlan County.
The Cedar Run ATV Trail began in 2007 as a partnership between the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Harlan County Tourism Bureau and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The ATV trail features more than nine miles of ATV and motorcycle trails. The trail also features a “tot lot” — a 2.3-acre area separated from the general riding area. It is intended to be a place for beginning riders to learn on 90cc or smaller motorcycles and ATVs. With twists, turns and bumps, the tot lot allows adults to supervise and coach young riders.
ATV and motorcycle enthusiasts also may take their vehicles for a spin at the Alma Motocross Track. The track is part of the Nebraska Cornhusker Motocross Association. Competitions are held at the track beginning in the spring through the fall.
For visitors who prefer to take in the views on their feet, there are miles of walking and nature trails near the Harlan County Reservoir. The Pheasant Ridge Trail runs for three miles along the north side of the Harlan County Reservoir from just off Highway 183 to the parking lot at Methodist Cove boat dock.
“The walking trail is wonderful. We all enjoy the hiking and walking trail,” said Teri Bach, president of the Alma Chamber of Commerce.
People can take their dogs on the trail, ride bikes, jog or walk. Motorized vehicles are prohibited. Another walking trail option is the River’s Edge Nature Trail located along the Republican River within North Outlet Park.
Visitors also may enjoy the Harlan County Reservoir more traditionally by canoing, kayaking or tubing on the Republican River Water Trail.
“Kayaking is increasing in popularity,” said park manager Tom Zikmund with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Republican River flows through the Harlan County Reservoir, and visitors often access the river trail below the Harlan County Dam at the North or South Outlet Park. The meandering river is rated as Class I or “easy” on the International Scale of River Difficulty. Wildlife often can be viewed from the river including deer, turkey, beaver, fox, coyote, and a variety of bird species.
More than 500,000 people travel to Harlan County Reservoir each year, said Zikmund. Because the lake is managed by the Corps, there is more public access to use the trails and the lake, he added. The variety of trail options are just one more reason for lakegoers to come to Harlan County.
“(It’s) something alternative to do around the lake other than be on the water,” Wolf said.