Category Archives: Local Life

Omaha Zoo review

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Going to the zoo, zoo, zoo…again! Zoos may be one of our new favorite places, and the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha was a fantastic place to visit.

We had a brief stop in Omaha as part of our summer vacation so we decided to check out the zoo we’ve seen advertised along the interstate during several previous drives through Omaha. The zoo is literally right next to I-80, making it an easy stop on trips to and from pretty much anywhere along that interstate. One of the great things about this zoo is that you can easily make it a short stop to let the kids get some energy out or an all-day adventure.

Although it rained throughout our visit, many of the zoo’s exhibits are indoors so we had fun anyway. I absolutely recommend the aquarium portion and the jungle building even if you only have a short time for a visit. Both are indoors but they put visitors right into the action. It’s no dull trip through a building full of caged animals!

The jungle building walks visitors through a rainforest with monkeys and birds roaming throughout exhibits. Hippos, tapirs, rays…oh, my! Even though the animal areas are actually separated from each other, the building is designed to make it feel like more of a natural habitat. And the zoo does a great job of grouping friendly animals together, such as in an area that housed tapirs and monkeys or another that held a snake and turtle together.

The rainforest had a rope bridge and waterfalls, too.

The rainforest had a rope bridge and waterfalls, too.

The aquarium has several large tanks of colorful fish and, on the day we visited, a touch tank of sea stars. The best part, though, is the walk-through tunnel where sharks, tuna and other fish literally swim overhead and all around you. Very cool and something I would not have expected to see from the Omaha zoo!

Shark week, anyone?

Shark week, anyone?

Eli’s favorite part of the day was feeding the fish at a pedestrian bridge over the zoo’s small lake. There’s a monkey habitat on an island in the lake and a ton of brightly colored koi in the water. If it happens to rain on the day of your visit, take a break on the covered bridge and invest a few quarters in fish food. The little pellets cause a feeding frenzy down below as the koi swim on top of each other to grab them. (And if you forget quarters like we did, you can probably use a few leftover pellets dropped on the bridge by previous visitors.) Several hours and a nap later, Eli was still talking about the “fish and monkeys.”

The monkeys are a hoot to watch, even if you don't like feeding fish.

The monkeys are a hoot to watch, even if you don’t like feeding fish.

Overall, we cut our visit a little shorter than we would have liked because a certain somebody (not me, I promise!) was getting a bit fussy. But we were there at least four hours and didn’t see everything they had to offer. So, I’d say the $15 admission price is a bargain for a full day of fun! And they allow visitors to bring in food and beverages so there’s no need to spend extra cash on meals and snacks while you’re there.

As I’ve said before, Omaha isn’t really that far from our corner of Kansas, and we plan to be back for a long weekend sometime. The zoo will definitely be included in future visits!

The Henry Doorly Zoo and Visit Omaha kindly gave us free passes to the zoo in exchange for this review. But the thoughts and opinions herein are entirely my own.

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Farm to Fork Summit Coming to Colby

Registration is still open for the Kansas Rural Center’s Farm to Fork Summit, coming to the Colby community building from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. this Wednesday.

Chris Sramek, co-founder of the High Plains Food Co-op, an online food purchasing cooperative that sources from Kansas farms, will speak at the meeting. Sramek will share his experience and insight into the development of the cooperative, including challenges and future opportunities.

A panel of Kansas farmers, health professionals, extension workers, food retail businesses and other community experts will share their experiences, too, telling the story of the regional food system and community health and setting the stage for discussions about region-specific challenges.

Afternoon sessions will encourage discussion and feedback of specific policy items. The Kansas Rural Center will incorporate these items into a statewide plan to provide information to citizens and policymakers about the status of the state’s farming and food system, along with a discussion of problems the food system experiences.

The meeting is part of the center’s Community Food Solutions Initiative, made possible by a grant from the Kansas Health Foundation. The center works to develop policy priorities to shape the future of Kansas food and farming designed to expand access to healthy, fresh Kansas-raised food. For more information, contact Natalie Fullerton at (402) 310-0177.

 

Discount Travel in Omaha

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The travel bug has bitten our family hard this summer! But instead of planning far away trips, we are focusing on all the fun things there are to do in our area.

It might not seem like there are many fun things to do around northwest Kansas, but I’ve been surprised by the options available in within a half-day’s drive. A long weekend can feel like a mini-vacation and doesn’t have to cost much.

One of the best ways I’ve found to experience local attractions is to take advantage of discounts available. The folks at the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau reached out to me to help get the word out about their free savings card. Anyone can request one at their website: http://www.visitomaha.com/omaha-adventure/savings-card/#.U5kGXtEg_IU. And while you’re there, you can also request a free travel guide and get all kinds of visitor info.

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The card has good discounts at several family-friendly attractions, including the zoo and children’s museum. We plan to visit the zoo later this summer when we visit Omaha, and I’ll be sure to post a review of that, too.

In the meantime, if you live anywhere near Omaha, check out their website…you might be surprised what the city has to offer.

And if you aren’t planning to visit Omaha, take a few minutes to check out the visitor’s bureau websites of the towns near you. You might find discount programs you didn’t even know were out there!

 

 

 

Visiting Chaffee County, Colorado

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Doesn’t that look delicious? If you love black olives like I do, it does. And it was delicious, too!

This delicious pizza came from a restaurant called Pizza Works while my hubby and I got away for the weekend in the mountains outside Buena Vista, Colorado, last weekend.

Buena Vista, part of Chaffee County, is a small town that isn’t overly touristy (at least, not yet) but offers a ton of outdoor activities: hiking, biking, river rafting, hot springs, ghost towns, etc. Since many of the activities are free or inexpensive, it can be an affordable family vacation, or it can be a slightly pricey getaway. You can easily customize your vacation to your family’s budget and interests.

We opted for the slightly pricey getaway this time. We stayed at the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs and Resort, pictured below, which is about a six-hour drive from our part of Kansas.

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I remembered the hot springs from when I was younger, but it has blossomed into a true mountain resort. When I was younger, the hot springs area was basically a convenience store, old hotel and a spring-fed pool and creekside springs. Now, it has more pools, a spa, an event facility, a waterslide, a restaurant and several renovated and new lodging options.

The rooms and cabins are not exactly cheap and they book fast, but they do include complimentary passes to all of the pool facilities. It’s so convenient to take a dip in the springs when they’re right outside your hotel room door!

If you want to visit the hot springs but don’t want to “spring” for the cost of a stay at the resort, you can buy a pass to the pools for about $20.

There are ample camping options around, including RV parks and national forest campgrounds, as well as hotels in Buena Vista, Salida and other area towns. And, if you’re camping and need a shower, a day at the pool might be just the ticket!

Call for Open Local Government

I wrote the column below, which will appear in today’s edition of the Colby Free Press, to call on local government officials to provide more open discussions on issues that impact the community.

Backroom deals and private meetings are alive and well in Colby government–and that drives this reporter nuts.

This newspaper has been deliberately and specifically excluded from at least two city government events in just the last few months: an awards banquet and community concerns, a regular once-monthly meeting between government officials. Such a blatant attempt to keep information away from the media leads this libertarian to question what they’re trying to hide.

I even offered to let a city official read any story I wrote on the banquet before it was published so he could make sure it was accurate, if that was his concern. Still, we were excluded. His excuse was his theory that the employees would not have any fun if a newspaper reporter was there.

Why would the City of Colby refuse to allow a reporter to cover a city employees’ awards banquet that many of the city’s employees attend, along with the city manager and council representatives? What are they doing that needs to stay hidden away from public view?

Maybe nothing. Or maybe something sneaky. The point is that we as the newspaper and, consequently, we as a public, have no way of knowing because the city exercised its legal right to keep us out of their gathering.

The city, along with other government offices, exercises that same right regularly, meeting in private on the second Monday of every month. They call the meeting “community concerns,” but the community is not invited to participate. Only community leaders, in the privacy of a back room at a local restaurant, get to participate in these discussions–discussions which may determine the fate of local business projects, government funding attempts, taxation and who knows what else that will impact the daily life of you and me.

These meetings are kept secret, as far as I can tell, and our reporters’ attempts to even sit and listen to the discussion have been turned away. Those who participate rarely have a quorum of any governing body, thus avoiding Kansas’ open government laws that would otherwise require the meeting to be open to the public.

I was able to attend one meeting, thanks to a somewhat accidental quorum of one government body attending that meeting, and I was surprised to see the number of government agencies represented in such a private discussion: the county commission, the city manager, the city mayor, the city council, the economic development board and more. I was very clearly not welcomed by the group and, according to one source, members of the group complained extensively afterward about having a reporter at their meeting.

Since then, another reporter on our staff has tried repeatedly to attend these government meetings but with no luck. He was even told by one city official that, should he show up at one of the meetings, no one would say anything because they didn’t want their discussions in the newspaper.

Why? Again, what are they hiding? What can’t the public know about discussions that may have a significant impact on their daily lives?

These are the people who determine the major happenings in Colby, so why can’t their constituents have a view on their discussions or a voice in those discussions?

If everything is decided in a private discussion or at a private event before it comes up for a vote at someplace like a city council or county commissioners’ meeting, the public never really gets an opportunity to have their say. And that’s not the goal of Kansas’ open government laws.

I call on those government officials who take such care to keep their dealings private to open the doors a bit more. Let the media and the public see what you are doing at your private events and backroom meetings. Keeping things secret looks suspicious to most members of the public, this reporter included, but if you aren’t doing anything shady why not let the sunshine in?

And the wind keeps blowing…

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We’re in our third day of incredible winds here on the plains of western Kansas. Unfortunately, there are many empty fields this time of year and the dust blows everywhere.

It was so bad today that I literally had to stop while I was driving on some county roads. I could not see past the hood of my car.

While this is tiresome for me, it certainly makes me pause and think about the pioneers who braved this kind of nasty weather in a covered wagon or sod hut. They probably didn’t have so much dust blowing around since the natural grasses held the topsoil down, but they had no real way to get out of the constant blowing. No wonder some of them went crazy.

Normally, you can see large grain elevators behind this sign. You'd have to squint hard to see them today.

Normally, you can see large grain elevators behind this sign. You’d have to squint hard to see them today.

 

Santa City

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It’s a little hard to go to the mall to see Santa when the nearest mall (such as it is) is two hours away, but we are fortunate to have Santa just a few minutes away at Santa City in Colby.

Santa City is a tradition even older than me, and my hubby remembers going to visit Santa here many times when he was a little boy. This is my first year experiencing it, and it was so fun!

The display, which is free, is set up by the City of Colby inside the scout hut, a building used for public events as well as scout meetings. It includes lights, Christmas trees and more as kids walk toward a costumed Santa.

Santa has toys for the kids and candy canes, and he’s very sweet. Eli screamed and cried when he saw Santa, of course…how do kids know Santa is scary? But Santa was very nice to him anyway.

Mrs. Claus completes the visit with homemade cookies and more Christmas wishes.

The experience is not to be missed! Way better than a visit to the mall to see Santa. The entire display feels homey and magical, and it’s even better in a small town where each child is treated like something special.

Santa City is open weekends until two weeks before Christmas when it is also open during the evenings. Call the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau at (785) 460-7643 for hours and info.