In a highly developed agricultural county like Hamilton County, which rivals Iowa's corn and soybean productivity, the very existence of the Sherman Ranch is unusual. The lay of the land and its native prairie plants and wildlife are also unique. Its 650 acres include bluffs, canyons and sub-irrigated lowland prairie along a mile of Platte River frontage. Esthetically, it has the power to transport a person into another realm – one notably more western. One can be surrounded as far as the eye can see by beautiful unbroken prairie under a 360-degree dome of sky. Connecting to the history of this place, visitors can easily seclude themselves in a rugged canyon or stand on a promontory and gaze north across the wide Platte Valley - the historic Platte River Road – to and beyond the Lincoln Highway (US 30) and the Transcontinental Railroad (UP) still in plain sight in their modern forms.
It was fall of 2010 when Tom Sherman, then 90 years old, mentioned after a meeting at Bader Park that he wanted to do something with his land. Prairie Plains Executive Director Bill Whitney responded with a request that he consider a proposal from Prairie Plains whereby the land would be preserved as a natural area, still used as agricultural land and made accessible to people for recreation.
Tom read the proposal and after family consultations and necessary legal estate work, signed a purchase option in the spring of 2011 giving Prairie Plains the right to buy the land after he passed away. For three years, spring 2011 until spring 2014 we led tours of the land for prospective donors and guests. Tom accompanied us on many of the tours, and was a great storyteller. In 2012 we applied to the Nebraska Environmental Trust (NET) for a grant that was approved in early 2013. This essential funding served as a challenge for new prospective donors and foundations to match.
SOAR campers visited the land in 2013 and Tom was there to greet them. Sarah Bailey also used the land for the new Youth Naturalist Program that year as well. When Tom Sherman passed away at 94, our clock began to run on the 18 month option period. By the end of 2014 we had an additional commitment from Ducks Unlimited and a grant from a private foundation. Together with NET we had $900,000 in the pool. The purchase price set by appraisal in early 2015 was $1,882,390. We needed close to a million dollars to buy it by the end of 2015. We focused on steady progress during the ensuing fundraising process. Thanks to generous support from foundations and individuals, we just kept moving forward. Several timely gifts kept morale high but all were significant, and added up to our goal (and then some) before the deadline.
We can’t ever thank all donors enough. In addition, special thanks go to the Nebraska Environmental Trust, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the Tom Sherman Estate trustees at Cornerstone Bank for their dedication and help with some of the details that came with such a daunting project.
Situated only a mile east of Gjerloff Prairie on the Platte River Bluffs of Hamilton County, Sherman Ranch's gently rolling plateau, rugged canyons, river escarpment and expansive level lowland spread out across a broad and picturesque landscape, which, when including surrounding properties, makes it seem much larger than its 650 acres. Sherman Ranch features of particular note include one mile of Platte River frontage and lowland meadow with wetlands. The large canyon has branch canyons and several sheer cliffs which expose a 40-50,000 year old strata of sediment deposition, perhaps even concealing ice age mammoth fossils.
Sherman Ranch plant communities include most of the species flourishing at nearby Gjerloff Prairie. Early Prairie Plains management activities indicate that ongoing treatment with grazing and prescribed burning will, over time, replicate the flower garden appeal, as well as high-quality grazing production existing on Gjerloff Prairie. A burned prairie area will attract grazing livestock to the extent that unburned areas are avoided. This rest renews grass vigor during the years before the next fire and heavy graze. The result of this burn and graze patchwork is that wildflowers flourish and native grasses thrive - all to the benefit of wildlife, pollinators, livestock and people enjoying the land. Other stewardship activities will include removal of red cedar and deciduous trees and shrubs; also control of phragmites, musk thistle and purple loosestrife.
Sherman Ranch is located one mile north and two miles west of the Marquette Highway 14 turnoff. Turning north at the intersection of 23 Road and O Road leads to the farmstead; nearly a half mile further east of the intersection is a Sherman Ranch sign and driveway to access the west side of the property.
Visitors are welcome, but should always be mindful of livestock, barbed wire fences and gates, and should be cautious around natural hazards such as holes, downed timber and steep hillsides or cliffs.
Check out photos of Sherman Ranch in our scrapbook.
1307 L Street
Aurora, NE 68818