BAYARD, Neb. — Throughout 2018, Chimney Rock National Historic Site has been making improvements to its visitor center, much to the delight of everyone who walks through its doors.
A steady stream of visitors came to see Chimney Rock on July 4, having fun with interactive history displays and drinking cowboy coffee brewed fresh outdoors behind the visitor center.
Employee Vicki Cobb said she has heard many positive comments from visitors who are staying longer than before.
“They come in and say, ‘Oh, we’re only here for a few minutes,’ ” Cobb said. “Then they will still be here an hour to an hour and a half later.”
Cobb said visitors with children are also spending more time in the museum playing with the interactive exhibits. The addition of a pony that children can ride for a quarter is also lengthening visits.
Sandra Reddish, historic sites coordinator for History Nebraska, said she was surprised by how many kids have made a beeline for the ride. Cobb has made sure to have extra quarters on hand for parents who need change. She also purchased a cowboy hat and made a vest for children to wear while on the ride.
A boy came into the museum last week already wearing a cowboy hat and went straight to the pony ride. Cobb said the boy’s father must have put $5 into it.
“When he was finished, I asked him, ‘Were you a Pony Express rider?’ ” Cobb said. “He said, ‘No. I was Wild Bill.’ ”
Among the other upgrades already in place are a spotting scope, rocks in which people can carve their names and a display that Cobb built with jars of dirty water from the Platte River. Reddish gave Cobb a sketch of what she envisioned, including something that needed to be wheelchair accessible.
Below the jars are descriptions of different diseases, including cholera and typhoid, that travelers could get from dirty water.
There are more upgrades to come as the visitor center continues its makeover. Reddish would like to get more items, including an education cart, so visitors can pick things up and hold them.
Reddish is also looking for an elephant for another display that is being worked on. When crossing the continent in the 19th century, travelers would face many crushing hardships. The Plains and the Rockies that lay ahead were breathtaking and frightening for them. When they were tired of the journey and wanted to turn back, people were said to have “seen the elephant.”
“I want to have a display where every visitor will be able to ‘see’ the elephant,” Reddish said.
One interactive project, which has been at the museum for more than 20 years, is a wagon and supplies. Visitors can pack it to see if they are underweight, just right or overloaded. An engineering student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln designed it as part of his thesis, and it has been stumping visitors for two decades. Cobb has seen only three people complete it correctly. All three were 8-year-olds who accomplished the task at separate times.
“It’s really popular and we’re going to redo it,” Reddish said.
While the project works fine, it needs upgrades, including a new paint job. The display has brought a lot of joy over the years.
“It’s fascinating watching kids do this,” Reddish said. “It’s giving them a challenge and they’ll work and work at it trying to get it right.”
Chimney Rock is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. It is open Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day but closed all other state holidays and Easter. Admission is $3 for adults and $2 for National Park Service Pass card-holders. Adult groups of 20 or more are $2 per person. Chimney Rock is free for children, school groups and History Nebraska members. For more information, contact the visitor center at 308-586-2581.