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Hail in the garden, holes in the leaves

July 28, 2015

I could not be a farmer around here. My nerves couldn’t take it.

It’s not a matter of “if” we’ll get hail in any given year, but “when, how big, and how much.”

I’ve written about hail numerous times on this blog already: here, here, here, here, here.

This year, I’ve been home to note hail on April 8, June 16, June 17, and July 28. There have been several stories in the regional news about various crops destroyed by hail, either soon after planting, or, as now, just before harvest. Hail might inconvenience me, but it really hits farmers hard.

The June 16-17 storms ripped up my garden.

A sad, hailed tomato plant.

A sad, hailed tomato plant.

The June 17 hail was kind of pretty. I'd like to colorize this image and print it and hang it up as part of my western Nebraska art collection.

The June 17 hail was kind of pretty. I’d like to colorize this image and print it and hang it up as part of my western Nebraska art collection.

The garden recovered, but I remained paranoid.

Guarding against a hailstorm that never materialized on July 5.

Guarding against a hailstorm that never materialized on July 5.

By the time yesterday’s hailstorm hit, most of the plants were too big to be protected under cover anymore.

The storm featured some large hail, but it was short-lived, thank goodness. No noticeable damaged to the house.

The storm featured some large hail, but it was short-lived, thank goodness.

The garden suffered some broken stems and leaf holes, but it should pull through OK. No visible damage to the house, and the car was safe in the garage.

The garden suffered some broken stems and leaf holes, but it should pull through OK. No visible damage to the house, and the car was safe in the garage.

While I was inspecting the hail holes in the plants, I discovered another source of leaf holes: cabbage loopers on the broccoli!

On the younger leaf in the foreground: cabbage looper caterpillar damage and several tiny cabbage looper eggs. In the background, a mature leaf sports a hail hole.

On the younger broccoli leaf in the foreground: cabbage looper caterpillar damage and several tiny cabbage looper eggs. In the background, a mature leaf sports a hail hole.

Here's a blurry photo of a cabbage looper caterpillar I found on another broccoli leaf.

Here’s a blurry photo of a tiny, green cabbage looper caterpillar I found on another broccoli leaf.

I’ve been asked several times, “Don’t you get ‘worms’ in your garden broccoli?” I always answer, “No.”

The reason we don’t is that, as soon as I notice cabbage looper eggs and caterpillars on the broccoli plant, I wage a “pick and smush” campaign against the eggs and caterpillars.

The cabbage plants seem to be further along for the first cabbage looper assault this year. It’s harder to find all the eggs and caterpillars with more and denser leaves to pick through.

So, this year I may wind up with a few ‘worms’ in my broccoli. If the hail leaves us alone and lets my garden continue to grow, that is.

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw

Weekend Colorado trip

July 23, 2015

One of the benefits of living in western Nebraska: we’re close to the Rocky Mountains and the population center of the Front Range, which has all kinds of businesses and services you can’t get in rural Nebraska.

This past weekend, Bugman and I made the 2.5-hour trip to Fort Collins to get our nearly 10-year-old Subaru worked on (thank you, Dellenbach Subaru, for making our car drive like new again, and for treating us so well). As a friend said, bringing a Subaru to a Colorado dealership is like taking it back to the mother ship. There are a TON of Subarus in Colorado. I think it’s the state vehicle or something. (As opposed to Nebraska, where the pickup tuck clearly rules. See also the fifth photo in this post, about the time Bugman and I attended a spring cattle branding.)

We brought our tandem along for the ride, so we could get in some Cycle Greater Yellowstone training while our car was being worked on. Many thanks to the Fort Collins Cycling Club for their excellent website, which enabled us to find a route of just the right length and difficulty. We chose the Five Dams and Bellevue Loop, which gave us some good hill climbing along with lovely views of Horsetooth Reservoir and the city below.

Oh, yes - there was some climbing.

Oh, yes – there was some climbing.

 And some nice vantage points to watch people waterskiing and paddleboarding on the reservoir.

And some nice vantage points to watch people waterskiing and paddleboarding on the reservoir.

That night, we did some more things we can’t do back home: checked out a microbrewery and ate Ethiopian food.

The next morning, we hit the Spring Creek Trail in Fort Collins for a Virtual Beat The Blerch 10K a friend had organized, starting from Ross Natural Area. Fort Collins really has an excellent trails system.

So Blerchy!

So Blerchy!

We took the long way home, heading west out of Fort Collins into the mountains on Poudre Canyon Road . . .

This is not a fast drive, but it is pretty, and there are lots of picnic areas along the way.

This is not a fast drive, but it is pretty, and there are lots of picnic areas along the way.

. . . so we could visit some friends in Walden, Colorado – Dan and Kathi Manville. They run the Paradise Lanes bowling alley and restaurant on the south end of Walden. I highly recommend a visit if you’re in the area, for the food if not for the bowling. Plenty of comfort food options, good side salads, and some craft beer selections, including our favorite for this visit – Wooly Booger, from Grand Lake Brewing. (We cracked up every time we said Wooly Booger. Yes, we know it’s a fly fishing term, but still . . .)

This was my not-so-great drive-by picture on the way out of town.

This was my not-so-great drive-by picture of Paradise Lanes on our way out of town.

We had the opportunity to explore North Park with the Manvilles, which was a real treat because Dan grew up on a ranch in the area.

visit with friends

We saw some bighorn sheep and deer. No moose, alas, despite Walden’s claim to fame as the “Moose Viewing Capital of Colorado.” We did see plenty of wildflowers, though!

The place was lousy with asters, with a few Indian paintbrush thrown in for variety.

The place was lousy with asters, with a few Indian paintbrush thrown in for variety.

Some alpine paintbrush, too.

Some alpine paintbrush, too.

We looked to be on the tail end of fairy trumpet flower season.

We looked to be on the tail end of fairy trumpet flower season.

There was a good amount of larkspur blooming as well, with some giant hyssop blooming here in the background.

There was a good amount of larkspur blooming as well, with some giant hyssop here in the background.

The yellow toadflax was pretty (AKA butter-n-eggs), but I later found out it's a non-native invasive plant that's escaped from domestic gardens.

The yellow toadflax was pretty (AKA butter-n-eggs), but I later found out it’s a non-native invasive plant that’s escaped from domestic gardens.

The toadflax was also crawling with insects, which Bugman had to check out.

The toadflax was also crawling with insects, which Bugman had to check out.

The dusky beardtongue was lovely.

The dusky beardtongue was lovely. This photo does not do justice to the deep, glowing maroon color.

And my favorite - the mariposa lily.

And my favorite – the mariposa lily.

It’s only a 3 1/2 -hour drive between Walden and Scottsbluff, via Laramie and Cheyenne in Wyoming. Really, we ought to be getting out there more often!

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw

Flashback to June flowers

July 15, 2015

Have you been missing my wildflower posts from Scotts Bluff National Monument? I’ve been missing my hikes up the bluff. I’ve got excuses, of course. (Out of town, too busy, schedule changed, trail was closed due to rock slides, etc.) But now I’m just getting to downright procrastination on the posting.

Here are some images I took back on June 23. Many of the flowers can probably still be found out there.

The prickly poppy - one of my favorites.

The prickly poppy – one of my favorites.

Plains sunflower

Plains sunflower

The platte thistle - this one's a native plant, and important for pollinator species, judging by the number of insects I often see on the flowers.

The platte thistle – this one’s a native plant, and important for pollinator species, judging by the number of insects I often see on the flowers.

Not sure what this one is.

Not sure what this one is, but it’s got a beetle on it.

This Little Brown Jobber landed on a dried yucca spike near me. I'm not so good at identifying LBJs. Lark sparrow, perhaps?

This Little Brown Jobber landed on a dried yucca spike near me. I’m not so good at identifying LBJs. Lark sparrow, perhaps?

A late-blooming large-flowered townsendia.

A late-blooming large-flowered townsendia.

Here's an out-of-focus photo of a clustered cancer-root bloom. It's a parasitic plant that lacks its own chlorophyll.

Here’s an out-of-focus photo of a clustered cancer-root bloom. It’s a parasitic plant that lacks its own chlorophyll.

A folded prickly pear blossom, ready to unfurl as the day warms up.

A folded prickly pear blossom, ready to unfurl as the day warms up.

There's an opened bloom!

There’s an opened bloom!

Scarlet globe mallow

Scarlet globe mallow

There were just oodles of spiderwort. Must be a good year for them.

There were just oodles of spiderwort. Must be a good year for them.

As opposed to the yucca. Not a particularly spectacular year for yucca blooms.

As opposed to the yucca. Not a particularly spectacular year for yucca blooms. But this ladybug looked handsome on a prior season’s yucca spike.

I'll slip in one more insect photo here - a bee assassin.

I’ll slip in one more insect photo here – a bee assassin. They don’t just eat bees. They’ll eat pretty much anything they can catch.

Here's a view from the Monument I don't often see. On this day, I hiked all the trails one top of the Monument, when usually I would just hike the Saddle Rock Trail up and then down again. I was in search of something that I, alas, did not find.

Here’s a view from the Monument I don’t often see. On this day, I hiked all the trails one top of the Monument, when usually I would just hike the Saddle Rock Trail up and then down again. I was in search of something that I, alas, did not find.

Here is a photo that my friend Rick Myers had shared just a couple of days before, taken at the Monument, which led to my fruitless search that day. I had no idea there were barrel cacti up there! Maybe one day I will find it!

Here is a photo that my friend Rick Myers had shared just a couple of days before, taken at the Monument, which led to my fruitless search that day. I had no idea there were barrel cacti up there! Maybe one day I will find it!

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw, except barrel cactus image by Rick Myers

Monument Marathon + Husker game = H-E-L-P!

July 7, 2015

This may seem a little early, but HELP! Can you volunteer for the Monument Marathon on September 26?

You can sign up here.

We’re about two months away from the race, but there’s a wee note of panic in the back of my mind. The Monument Marathon and Half starts at 8 a.m. on Saturday, September 26, 2015.

And there’s this:

husker schedule on race dayAAAACK!

We always knew it was a possibility. There was one year when race day coincided with a night game. But a game that starts at 10 a.m. on race day? Ay carumba!

There’s not a lot we can do about the schedule of the race. We have to set the date at least a year in advance, so that runners in the current race can get info about next year and so we can advertise nationally. We also have to work around big events at Western Nebraska Community College (Celebrate WNCC), in the community (Harvest Festival at Legacy of the Plains Museum, which is on the race course), and in the racing world (Omaha marathon, Denver marathon). We also need to try to hit the sweet spot for Goldilocks weather – not too hot, not too cold; no snow, no hail.

Which leaves the race crew at the mercy of our community of Husker loyalists – if you are not going to the Husker game that day, will you commit to volunteering at the race?

Your community needs you!

This race is a huge opportunity for us to showcase how awesome we are out here in western Nebraska (we currently have registrants from eastern Nebraska as well as Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Tennessee, Missouri, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Utah, Florida, Washington, Indiana, New York, Arizona, and California). The volunteers are a HUGE part of what makes the Monument Marathon a success. Case in point, here are some quotes from race reviews on Marathon Guide:

The entire community is very welcoming and supportive and you get the sense that they really do want you to finish the race and have fun at the same time.

And the volunteers! To a person, enthusiastic, supportive, and performing their tasks with aplomb.

The enthusiasm of the volunteers and other crowd at the aid stations was fantastic!

As for volunteers, what can I say? These people are AMAZING! This is why I gave 5 stars for spectators – it’s mostly a rural run, but the numerous aid stations and volunteers were absolutely cuckoo excited to see each runner!

Enthusiastic volunteers & friendly locals help make this small event fun and refreshing.

Everyone in the town and all of the volunteers are super friendly, and the small-town feel is really special.

The organization was flawless, voluntter staff was so darn friendly you thought you were in ‘Mayberry’ or some place like that.

If you’re thinking, “Gosh, I really want to be a part of this, but, Huskers . . .”, rest assured: there will be some kind of radio / TV / scorekeeper function happening that day at the race so you can keep up with the game! (Race crew members are Huskers fans, too!)

Shoot, this juxtaposition with the Husker game could turn out to be a pretty cool thing. What if the aid stations and homeowners around the race course turned the marathon into a big, miles-long outdoor tailgating party, with TWO entities to cheer for: the Huskers and the runners? This could really be a lot of fun!

If you’re excited to help out, show your Husker pride, and welcome runners to our community, mark your calendar and sign up here, so the race crew will know we can count on you!

More information about volunteer position needs and training schedule will be available as the time draws nearer, but, gosh, it’d sure be nice to see those volunteer signup numbers start climbing now, so the race crew has one less thing to worry about.

Here’s a note from race director Jennifer Rogers about volunteer positions:

Usually whenever I present for volunteer recruitment, I tell people we have needs before, during and after race day and that you don’t have to be a marathon expert, we just need enthusiastic people to help make the race experience great.  And there’s different times people can give on race day too.  If they’re a course marshal at the start of the full course, they could be done in an hour.

Still, if you can make a significant commitment to help out on race/game day, it’d be much appreciated!

Will I see you there?

Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Run the Monument Marathon in western Nebraska

July 7, 2015

Katie Bradshaw:

Hey, y’all. If you’re thinking of doing the Monument Marathon, get yourself registered, y’hear? :-)

Originally posted on Wyobraska Tandem:

I’ve been awfully frustrated the last couple of years. I have so far been unsuccessful at getting my friends back in Iowa to come participate in the Monument Marathon and halfout here in western Nebraska. (Somehow, they got their signals crossed, and some of them wound up going for the “Monumental Marathon” – No, guys! No! That is in Indiana!! WAY different!!! The MONUMENT Marathon in western Nebraska actually goes around a National Monument – Scotts Bluff National Monument, to be precise. I have no idea what claim Indiana has to being “Monumental.”)

I’ve already taken it upon myself to do blog posts about the highlights of the Monument Marathon course (in 2012, the first year of the race) and a mile-by-mile accounting of the course (in 2013). What more can I do to persuade people that the Monument Marathon in western Nebraska is The Place To…

View original 1,201 more words

Updates on downtown Scottsbluff open house post

June 4, 2015

Hi, folks.

Well, my post yesterday on the downtown Scottsbluff plaza open house has been getting a lot of attention and sparked several conversations.

And I’ve also learned a few new things and added a couple of clarifications to my original post, which I will continue to do, so the post is as accurate as possible. (Well, to the extent that it doesn’t become too messy, anyway.)

If you already read the original post and don’t want to wade through it again, here were my updates:

UPDATE: if you have comments on the project, here is the email, so you can send them, too: scottsbluffplaza@mcschaff.com

UPDATE: I didn’t spend enough time at the ice rink station, apparently. I missed that the idea is for a “synthetic ice” rink, which requires a lot less money for operation and is not dependent on climate, because no refrigeration system is needed. I found a recent news story from Albuquerque, New Mexico, describing the city’s decision to install a large synthetic ice rink after a test run with a small rink last year showed it was very popular with regional residents.

UPDATE: I completely missed an idea with this indoor activity center – to install playground equipment, so there would be year-round access to playground equipment, as well as an outdoor connection when the weather is nice. Another possibility: a couple of attached rental rooms, which would be perfect for kid party rentals.

UPDATE: I’ve heard there are plans in the works to have additional public meetings – what do you think might work, as far as timing and location? Also, I probably came across as more cynical than I meant to by my use of the term “the usual suspects.” It’s just that I tend to see the same people over and over again at planning meetings for happenings and projects in the community. Not a surprise, really – I think it’s a common problem: how do you get people to take time out of their busy lives and get actively involved in community projects?

UPDATE: After all that, I realized I forgot to mention in this this post that I am really excited about this project, and I see the plaza development as part of the continued improvement of the downtown that makes me love it even more.

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw

The downtown Scottsbluff plaza open house was fun

June 3, 2015

I have to hand it to the folks who pulled together the downtown Scottsbluff plaza open house  – I had more fun than I expected to.

I figured this would just be the standard “come in and talk to some people standing in front of posterboard.” It was that, but with added whimsy.

My first clue was the map. Map? I know my way around the Midwest Theater, thanks!

Oh, but the organizers wanted to make sure no one missed a station. (Please pardon the photo quality in this post – pix were taken hurriedly with a cell phone camera in less-than-ideal lighting conditions.)

fdd

There were stations for a water feature, ice rink, technology/sustainability, fire feature, other parks, fundraising, movie screen/gazebo/stage, and public restrooms/indoor activity center.

Each attendee was given a sheet of sticker dots and instructed to go ’round to the stations to learn about them, and then return to cast sticker votes for favorite ideas.

Here are pictures of all the stations (except the fundraising one – oops! ).

water featureice rinksustainabilitysustainability 2wayfinding, technology, power, wififire featureother downtown parksstage gazebo movie screenpublic restroomsindoor activity centerindoor activity center 2

The various stations had little treats for attendees. Take your picture with props at the ice rink station, and you’d get a popsicle. There were little packets of s’mores ingredients at the fire feature station (no actual fire, though, for obvious reasons, so the s’mores stayed raw). The station with a movie screen idea included bags of popcorn.

There was also a film running on the screen with examples from other cities’ downtowns.

A few of the posters had examples from Rapid City, South Dakota; Silver Springs, Maryland; and Boston, Massachusetts.

There were a couple drawbacks to the event. (Hey, nobody’s perfect.)

The stations were set up such that visitors would mainly be standing in the theater aisles, so the works quickly gummed up if even a handful of people were at a station. I was lacking in patience yesterday, so I tried in vain to bounce from one place to another to complete my mission by weaving between theater seats. I didn’t spend as much time visiting as I otherwise would have.

Another drawback – in order to get all the stations staffed, it seems some people were recruited who didn’t know about the context or nuances of the various options being presented. Would have been nice to have had a general info booth. Maybe that was the purpose of the folks at the check-in station at the beginning, but I didn’t think of going back there. It was repeatedly made clear that the possibilities on the posters were just that – possibilities, and that nothing was yet charted for the future of the plaza, other than the fact that the city had purchased a couple of buildings that could be torn down to make space. However, what I intended with my sticker votes and what others might interpret from my sticker votes could be two different things.

A bigger problem of this event was that, other than the sticker voting, there was no way that I saw to collect open-ended feedback from attendees onsite. When I asked about it, one person told me to take a business card from near the exit and to send an email.

So, I figured I’d do one better – I’ll write a blog post that others can read and comment on, and email the link!

UPDATE: if you have comments on the project, here is the email, so you can send them, too: scottsbluffplaza@mcschaff.com

Also, it’s clear that there are a thousand permutations of what a downtown Scottsbluff plaza could look like. There will need to be some lobbying and consensus-building to settle on a clear path. It won’t be easy. I’ll start an influencing campaign here with my bloggy bully pulpit. :-)

And so I give you, as organized into the categories presented on the posters:

SCB Citizen’s Thoughts on Scottsbluff Downtown Plaza Design

Water feature: splash, artistic, natural, passive

The water feature is going to be one of the items I will personally lobby the hardest for, because I have a pet idea. This idea, which came to me during my time directing Legacy of the Plains Museum, doesn’t fit neatly into any of the categories provided on the water feature poster, so I will invent my own: EDUCATIONAL INTERACTIVE.

This idea, which I would have loved to have integrated into the new Legacy of the Plains exhibits but really was not practical for that location . . . could work really well in downtown Scottsbluff and be a defining and memorable feature of the plaza that encompasses a big part of the unique identity of our community.

The idea began when I was walking through Pildammsparken in Malmö, Sweden, a few years ago. I saw a young man playing with this fountain:

Pildammsparken water featureI wound up going over to play with it myself. It was simple, yet mesmerizing. A sturdy, poured-concrete water feature with elevation changes and small metal gates that passersby could raise or lower to dam or release the water flow.

Add to this having experienced the Chamber of Commerce Water Tour, and I developed my pet idea:

Create a water feature like the one in Sweden, but instead of a cubist design, make a stylized model of the North Platte irrigation project, including the river, the dams and reservoirs, and the irrigation canals. Make it out of durable concrete and metal, with very simple functionality for easy maintenance. Then kids (including us “old kids”) can have fun playing in the water, raising and lowering dam gates and learning a little bit about the water systems that support our local economy.

Also, adding in an educational component would make it easier to get grant money to actually make this happen!

One other water feature comment: no splash pad, please. Why compete with the zoo? I think that splash pad helps fuel zoo membership, and the downtown would be doing a disservice to the zoo by introducing a no-cost competitor. Also, soggy kids dripping their way into nearby businesses? Mmmm – maybe not such a great idea.

Ice rink

I love the idea of a multi-use space, where summertime public gathering space could be converted into an ice rink in the winter. However, I have some major reservations about this:

1. Is an outdoor skating rink appropriate for our climate? As I noted when I first moved here, winter daytimes in Scottsbluff can be quite warm. An ice rink would be in constant need of attention because of all the freeze-thaw that would happen. Also, wind. We have wind here. It can make being outdoors in the winter mighty uncomfortable. The ice rink would need to have some pretty significant windblock features.

2. Operations. The city a few years ago backed out of operating the zoo. The city is currently backing out of helping to operate the Splash Arena. Why would the city even consider something like an ice rink, unless there is an idea to have a private vendor operate it? It could become quite an albatross. Also – liability. People fall when skating. Accidents happen. And expensive lawsuits.

Count me in the grumposition on this one, I’m afraid.

UPDATE: I didn’t spend enough time at the ice rink station, apparently. I missed that the idea is for a “synthetic ice” rink, which requires a lot less money for operation and is not dependent on climate, because no refrigeration system is needed. I found a recent news story from Albuquerque, New Mexico, describing the city’s decision to install a large synthetic ice rink after a test run with a small rink last year showed it was very popular with regional residents.

Sustainability

This category was kind of a weird catchall, including vegetation, a terrace, seating, a solar canopy, and “economic” – whatever that means. My thoughts here:

Seating. Of course you have to have seating. It’s a must for people-watching! It’d be great for that seating to be unique, such as benches with solar panels that have plugins for recharging personal electronic devices.

Some solar-powered lighting would be great, too. Save on electricity, keep the place lit up at night to make it attractive and discourage vandalism.

If “economic” means having a cafe or something in the public space – well . . . I dunno. How do you decide who goes there? Maybe instead have some shaded picnic benches, and post signage at downtown restaurants encouraging people to get their lunches “to go” and head to the park?

A terrace would be nice, but elevation changes are tricky for the mobility (or attention) impaired: case in point, people tripping over curbs at the farmer’s market. There doesn’t seem to be much space to create much of a terrace. And surely no terrace could go too deep there – I imagine there are underground utilities, and I wonder about rainwater/flood management. I think the water table can be kind of high downtown?

Vegetation definitely improves the aesthetics of a place, but I would defer to landscaper expertise on what would work best.

All I know is, whatever combinations of features go into the park, shade needs to be a high priority. It can get really uncomfortable really fast in the full sun. Whether that shade is from trees, solar canopies, or sculpture – it definitely needs to happen. How can the existing, new canopies be integrated into this?

Wayfinding, tech, power, wifi

Wayfinding. Absolutely. This needs to be the first thing to happen. It needed to happen yesterday. Specifically, downtown Scottsbluff needs a website. I mentioned this need when I blogged about downtown revitalization back in February 2010. It still hasn’t happened.

Wayfinding is critical to the downtown. Even I, a neighbor to the downtown and a frequent walker there, don’t remember all the businesses that are downtown and where they are located and what goods and services they provide. An interactive map with links to a simple page for each business (with a photo, name, address, phone number, website link and a brief description), and the ability to browse or search by category, and a link to a site with local tourist attractions, is really a necessity.

Physical wayfinding placards are becoming passé. They get outdated too quickly and can be expensive to maintain. Instead, placards with the web address and a QR code could be installed, along with wifi signal. If there’s a need to accommodate those without smartphones, a dispenser box with printed business listings could be attached to the wifi kiosks.

Yes, free public wifi is also a MUST, as are some power outlets.

Not sure what was meant by “tech,” but given some concerns I’ve heard about crime and vandalism, some quality recording security cameras seem like a “must,” too, alas.

Fire feature

My vote is for the grumposition on this one. Encouraging the idea of burning things in a public space? I just see too many potential problems with this. Also, some of the examples of flame walls make me think too much of Colorado ski lodges. It’s not who we are.

Other downtown parks

This was another station that seemed like an odd mishmash of categories. Bike racks? Of course we need them. Art? Of course! Though, given the smaller size of the park, it would be great if the art could be functional (e.g., sculptural bike racks, creative seating, shade-providing sculpture).

I also have a quibble with the other downtowns that were featured as examples in this design process. Rapid City? Silver Springs? Boston?? Those cities have populations of 70,800, 71,400, and 646,000, respectively, and are going to have a LOT more resources to draw upon than l’il ol’ Scottsbluff (population 15,023). I’d feel a lot more comfortable with some of the ideas being tossed around if we could point to similar-sized cities that had similar features.

Fundraising: advertising, sponsorships, events

Ah, yes – fundraising. Of the three ideas presented, I think I’d lean towards sponsorships, like a “donor wall” of some sort. It give people a sense of ownership, and it can be designed to be beautiful and non-intrusive. I’d definitely veto advertising. Clutter! Blech! Unless there was a designated, small and tasteful billboard or something. And events. Hm. There are already so many community fundraiser events, I think this would be difficult. I’d think more about “user fees” for space rental, maybe. And have downtown businesses pay into a kitty as well. And grants, of course.

Re: sustainability of operations – if whatever gets put into that downtown will need maintenance, can it pay for itself, or will the city have the budget and the commitment to maintain it? There are a lot of folks upset with the city backing away from the Splash arena at the same time this project is being proposed – what arguments can be made, in terms of number of people served per dollar spent and the return on that investment, that elevates this plaza project over other uses of city money? I would like to see some nuts-and-bolts kinds of figures here.

Stage / Gazebo / Movie Screen / theater / sound system

Stage: there absolutely needs to be some sort of stage. That kind of a space can anchor and serve as an intuitive go-to information center for events in the plaza and in the downtown (e.g., National Night Out). There needs to be a wifi wayfinding kiosk at the stage. And there needs to be seating and/or open space conducive to the angle of the stage. I’m not clear how a “theater” would differ from a “stage.”

Gazebo – meh. There are already several gazebos in parks around town already.

Movie screen. How does the Midwest Theater feel about this? How much would it actually get used? Maybe the blank wall of an adjoining building could be used? (Or would that space be better used as a mural canvas?) Large portable movie screens exist, right? I’m not sure how useful a feature this would be.

Sound system: installing something permanent, to me, sounds like a big maintenance headache. Maybe just having some poles and sheltered outlets where a system could be plugged in? But I’d defer to a sound tech.

Public restrooms

YES!!! I’ve wanted one on occasion while at the farmers market, if only to wash my hands before eating something. (And I’m sure my mom would second the need for restrooms.) Whether they were freestanding or part of a building, doesn’t matter to me. Just give us something!

Indoor activity center

I think I like the idea in principle, but I’m not exactly sure how this would be used. What’s the value per cost, given other meeting options in the area, like at the library? If such a structure would be included, it would seem to make sense to me to include the restrooms within the structure, and also to have a commerical-use-approved kitchen and vending area, similar to what’s at Five Rocks Amphitheater, so it could be rented out for public events. In that case, an indoor space opening up to the outdoors makes a lot of sense, like in the top illustration on that one poster. Why not build the resulting patio with a game board grid, then?

UPDATE: I completely missed an idea with this indoor activity center – to install playground equipment, so there would be year-round access to playground equipment, as well as an outdoor connection when the weather is nice. Another possibility: a couple of attached rental rooms, which would be perfect for kid party rentals.

Some other issues to consider

What is the primary goal of this project – to provide a public space, or to be an economic engine? Those goals are not mutually exclusive, but which one is the priority may point to how ideas can further be narrowed down. Does the downtown want to start with soliciting additional public involvement for a public space (I will note that a 2-hour open house on an early weekday evening will not attract a good cross-section of the public, and that many of the people I saw at the open house were “the usual suspects” – people who are influential in the community and in leadership positions), or does the downtown want to seek out information about what features actually attract the highest number of bodies with cash in their pockets?

UPDATE: I’ve heard there are plans in the works to have additional public meetings – what do you think might work, as far as timing and location? Also, I probably came across as more cynical than I meant to by my use of the term “the usual suspects.” It’s just that I tend to see the same people over and over again at planning meetings for happenings and projects in the community. Not a surprise, really – I think it’s a common problem: how do you get people to take time out of their busy lives and get actively involved in community projects?

Youth involvement – again, to the concern I heard about graffiti. Are the most likely vandals – younger people – going to see this as “their plaza” or “our plaza”? How can the downtown get young people to see the area as being a space where they are welcome, as a space that they have an interest in and want to protect? Could a feature of an indoor activity center be display cases built into a wall, where the West Nebraska Arts Center could help to curate outdoor rotating art exhibits, with a focus on young artists?

Programming – it’s not just an “if you build it, they will come” kind of thing in a public plaza. There needs to be a concerted effort to program events into the area, and a point person to coordinate these events. Where would this responsibility lie? With the city and the parks department? With the downtown organization?

At well over 2,500 words and 2 1/2 hours invested in this topic, it’s time to quit now. These aforementioned are my currently thoughts on the subject – I might change my mind on any number of them, given more or different information.

Your opinions / responses welcome in the comments!

UPDATE: After all that, I realized I forgot to mention in this this post that I am really excited about this project, and I see the plaza development as part of the continued improvement of the downtown that makes me love it even more.

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw

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