Niobrara River near Valentine

The Niobrara River near Valentine Nebraska is a National Scenic River. This alone should give you reason to be curious and make you want to visit…

Niobrara River 514 LBLD Jamie Vesay WM IMG_9646 copy

…but many Nebraskans will tell you they go for the canoeing, kayaking, tubing, and camping. Add the giant overhead canvas of the open sky (which is just as amazing at night – seeing the stars) the surrounding topographical blend of Sandhills and riverside bluffs, pine and cedar trees, wildlife, and the hospitality of the town of Valentine – it is a wonderful destination for visitors.

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If you will be commercially FILMING or PHOTOGRAPHING near, on, or in the Niobrara river – there are a few things you should know…

The Niobrara river near Valentine is in north-central Nebraska. Plan a minimum of three days stay in the area to travel, overnight, and see most of it. Standard amenities such as food, lodging, and basic supplies are in the town of Valentine (unless you opt for a cabin or camping out-of-town).

Niobrara River cabin on river at Sunny Brook camp 514 LBLD Jamie Vesay WM IMG_9110 copy

Firstly, know that the river WATER is technically managed by the National Parks Service. If your production is of any scale and scope; this should be a starting point to discuss your project. Be professional and have an open discussion with them. They are receptive to filmmaking but they are managers and protectors of the wild river. There is a National Parks Service office in Valentine.

Niobrara River Norden Chute IMG_9038 - Version 2 TRD copy 2 WM2x Twitter copy

SAFETY should be at the forefront of every decision related to working near the river. Even on your location scouting you should be recognizing the most practical areas for production that are SAFE! For more considerations to safe shooting on water (including rivers and others) consider a review of this blog post about Filming on Water.

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Most of the LAND surrounding the river is private property. IF you have an inside track on a land owner or if you’re working for an entity with access to the river, you’re more than halfway there. If not, my advice is to partner with an Outfitter that knows and works the river. More than likely they own a piece of property that gives you river access and a base-camp to park, put-in, or get out.

Berry Bridge Campground at Niobrara river 514 LBLD Jamie Vesay WM IMG_9410 - Version 2

I recommend Brewer’s Canoers and Berry Bridge Campground. Mary and Randy are natives to the area and are wonderful collaborators. They provide canoes or kayaks and tubes, life-preservers, and many other elements to help your project happen. Check with their schedule though because they are in the river-fun business first and the tourist season can be very busy.

Niobrara River tubes LBLD Jamie Vesay WM IMG_9477 copy

Another idea for collaborating with a property as a shooting location is Smith Falls State Park. There is ample parking, modern restrooms, picnic tables and a shelter, and if you’re “roughing it” you can tent-camp at the riverside. The waterfalls of Smith Falls fame are not on the river proper. To see them, it is a hike down a trail, over a bridge, more trail, and up a wood walkway. The photo below is from the south side of the river in the state park.

Niobrara River at Smith Falls SP 514 LBLD Jamie Vesay WM IMG_9395 copy

The largest section of land is within the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge. 19K + acres are managed and permitted by U.S. Fish & Wildlife. Any filming within the Refuge boundaries will need to be approved and permitted. Note: there are NO TUBES permitted in the river within the Refuge property. Kayaks and canoes only.  Tubes may enter the river just east of the Refuge property.

Niobrara River from Buffalo Bridge in Frt Niobrara Wildlife Refuge 514 LBLD Jamie Vesay WM TRD IMG_9731 - Version 2

The length of the river between Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge and Norden Chute BEGS TO BE SHOT WITH A DRONE. I’d love to see creative, cinematic shots: Low over the water of course, high past the bluffs, under the bridges, or through the bridges steel girders. I’ll give you this one: start it on the tube or kayak and lift off – or better yet; vice versa.

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For now, here are more MISCELLANEOUS Production tips:

  • Ideal times of year to work on the river are MAY (within the two weeks prior to Memorial Day ) or FALL (when foliage is changing). Reason for May is less people. The river tourist season gets going in June and summers can be crowded – unless that is what you need to shoot.
  • TRAVEL TIME (with production vehicles) from the town of Valentine to the river is 30+ minutes, depending on where you’re going. Allow more time to get to places further east.
  • Many ROADS in from the main asphalt highways of SR 20 and SR 12 – are DIRT and GRAVEL. The road to Smith Falls State Park is about four miles on gravel.
  • CELL SERVICE near the river is bad to non-existent (as of 2014). Texts worked in most places.
  • Children under the age of 12 in a Tube – MUST wear a LIFE JACKET.
  • Be aware of FIRE DANGER. In dry, hot summer months the risk is HIGH.
  • Note the SUN path and times of sunrise and sunset against the areas of the river you will be working. The bluffs and slight canyons could be in shadow.
  • The river DEPTH is as low as ankle-deep to 3 to 5 feet with deeper pockets sprinkled about.
  • The CURRENT can be slow to swift depending on time of year and recent rain.
  • Water CLARITY can be brown from sediment. Conflicting reports of it becoming more clear, slower, and lower as time moves closer to summer – if no large rain.
  • PUT IN points (and exits) have plastic mesh embedded in the ground. Practical for traction but not appealing if you are photographing there.

Go earlier in season.    Partner with an outfitter.    Be safe.     Have fun.

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All PHOTOS and CONTENT  Copyright Jamie Vesay

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Wind Farm, Wind Turbines

There is something mesmerizing about them. If you’re lucky enough to get to work around them or even for them, the view gets better as you get closer.

Windmills and old one near Petersburg Jamie Vesay WM LBLD treated IMG_5281In my opinion, the best array in Nebraska is near Petersburg*.  Firstly, there are many of them there – over fifty (50) spread out over one area. Additionally, there is another array near here with about twenty-five (25) in that group. The amount of turbines here on land that is topographically diverse, make this location worth the trip. From Omaha, they are about 130 miles northwest (about 2.5 hr drive). If you plan on shooting for a full day or hope to shoot at sunrise or sunset – consider staying closer to them. Moderate lodging and food exist in Petersburg, Neligh, or Albion. Larger scale amenities can be found in Norfolk or Columbus (each about an hour away).

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If you are shooting for the energy company or maybe a related client, your access will be easier and more fluid. You can shoot from the county road (and the array mentioned above does have roads close) but please know that most of the turbines are planted on PRIVATE PROPERTY, so you need PERMISSION (if you want to work close to them). SIDEBAR to those already saying, “I don’t ask permission,” location scouting and shooting is as much of a professional process as operating the camera. If nothing else, you are being respectful of people’s property and feeding production karma.

th_Wind farm Petersburg house IMG_8224  Back to the turbines.

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Time of year is equal to and comparable with the time of day you’ll be shooting. In late fall and winter, the sun is on a lower southern track. Keep this in mind if you want the sun backlighting them. If you’re getting on top of one (ONLY with company permission and climbing gear) there is such thing as being too high – as the sun may actually be under them.

CAUTION – WARNING about shooting in WINTER: Ice can build up on the blades and fall off. In extreme temps we’re talking heavy ice falling from a high point. Vehicle destruction or death can occur.  Dress warm, stay focused, and be safe!

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Mid June

Another hint about TIME OF YEAR: If you want green, early summer is most lush and best. If you want crops, later summer to early fall is best. Understand if you are not shooting at these times, the land is brown, the crops are cut or non-existent or buried in snow, and there are no leaves on trees.

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April

Regarding WIND, Nebraska is indeed notoriously a wind prone State and most of the time, there is at least a slight breeze. Good thing if you’re shooting wind farms and most turbines do move with even a slow wind. But every now and then, there is nothing. Hence, a non-spinning turbine is just not interesting. There is at least one APP and a website to help track the wind.

Here is a filming TIP: If it is windy, show it. The lovely tall grass below is a natural foreground element, connecting what you’re shooting.       You’re welcome.

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The following is important intel so please read slowly: WIND changes direction and turbines spin INTO it. If you pick a shot that looks great on one day – the turbines could be facing the opposite direction (even profile to your view) and will look vastly different on another day. The best view of course is when they face you.

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Finally, as with any shoot, SAFETY should be paramount. While the wind farms are indeed mesmerizing, you should treat your shoot like any industrial environment. Weather, time of year, how close you’ll be working are all considerations. Also, have proper permissions. From the farmers to the owners of the turbines, please ask before you shoot. If you’re project has any value, I am confident they will be open and even interested in collaborating with you.

Be safe and (always) have fun.

* There are other arrays in the State. Google “Nebraska wind farms map” to find a list and the best one closest to you. Honestly, you will waste your time shooting at just one single or two (like near Lincoln) especially once you’ve seen a large array. If you are in Omaha, and are unable to travel to Petersburg or others, there is a large array in Iowa near Walnut – which is only about 30 minutes from downtown.