I've crossed the border into Nebraska, and finally entered the nation's heartland. This Great Plains state is characterized by flat prairies and grasslands, which begs the question "Will I ever see another mountain again?" My journey thus far has been over a variety of terrains -- mountains, hills, valleys, canyons, deserts, salt flats, basins, plains, bluffs, and plateaus. But this appears different...
The Nebraska state sign proudly announces its claim on Arbor Day. The first American Arbor Day celebration began here in 1872, when an estimated one million trees were planted. However, the state remains mostly a treeless prairie with extensive grain fields ideal for grazing cattle, along with a reputation for encouraging thunderstorms and tornadoes. So I guess the tree-planting is an expressed hope for a greener future.
And where are the citizens? Eighty-nine percent of Nebraska cities have fewer than 3,000 people -- which is common for Midwestern states -- and most towns have declining populations of less than 1,000. Apparently most Nebraskans have left the rural communities to seek their fortunes in urban cities. Hence the mystery -- where have they gone?
My journey along the Lincoln Highway takes me through a series of tiny burgs with small populations of 300 or so, surviving on an annual income of less than $40,000. Each community began as a railroad stop during the country's western expansion, and is presently characterized by grain silos and a central water tower, gas station and country store, churches, post office, and a mixture of paved and unpaved streets.
Yet each town promotes a civic pride with its maintained parks, clean streets, and welcome signs for visitors. There are few traffic lights, no parking restrictions, no graffiti, no signs of the Internet, and certainly no rush hour or pesky crowds. It's a simple, orderly, quiet life...
The county has grown over the years; Chappell now has a population of 983, Big Springs has 418, and there are approximately 500 more people living outside the city limits. 37 of these people are county employees. In November of 2002 the largest flag in the state of Nebraska was officially dedicated. The large flag was painted on the side of Farmer’s Elevator and can be seen from Interstate-80, and is something that all residents of Deuel County are proud of. Deuel County continues to be a prosperous farming area. Crops such as wheat, corm, millet, sunflowers, milo, and oats are grown throughout the county. The larger ranches also grow alfalfa for their animals. Deuel County has rightfully taken on the motto: Deuel County, Where Wheat is King.
Week 17, Miles 1279