So much relies on protecting the PlatteBy JEFF NORTH,
It all begins with a snowflake. Somewhere in the northern Colorado high country near Grizzly Creek and Little Grizzly Creek, the first warm days of spring begin to soften the snow that has accumulated for months. Pristine droplets of water begin to slowly trickle into a mountain meadow. One by one, drop by drop, they merge together. Filtered by lush grass and other flora, a pure little stream is formed. This stream slowly flows and grows for many miles through Colorado, then Wyoming, and ultimately joins a sister stream to form a river so rich in wildlife, history, and American culture that one could spend a lifetime studying and exploring this vast tributary. They call it the Platte River.
I was first introduced to the Platte many years ago through my passion for and fascination of the white-tailed deer. Some of the largest bucks on the North American Continent make this river basin their home and it was here that I realized there was much more to this waterway than just giant bucks.
The Platte River is formed by the confluence of the North Platte and South Platte in western Nebraska. It was named by the French explorer Etienne de Veniard, sieur de Bourgmont in 1714 who first called it “Nebraskier” meaning “flatwater.” Later, the French, applied the word “plate” (meaning flat), pronounced “platte.”
Flat water is a very fitting description as this river meanders back and forth on its way to the Missouri River. For most of its length it is a shallow, muddy, serpentine tributary with a swampy bottom. Many islands dot the path making it hard to identify the main channel in many places hence it is sometimes called a “braided” stream. This pattern of uncertainty of the main channel and the variance in depth made it a less than desirable travel route by canoe years ago.
In lieu of water travel, there were several trails formed along the banks for navigation. These included the Mormon trail, the Oregon Trail, and the Pony Express route. This river provided water, grass, bison, and “chips.” Of course “chips” are the fecal matter of the bison which were used for fires by native man. The water was very “silty” and bad tasting. Man learned to let the water sit and most of the silt would settle out thus rendering it potable.
There is evidence of man at various sites up and down this corridor as far back as 11,000 years ago. I’m quite certain various cultures of indigenous people inhabited this country along this waterway back to prehistoric times. Tribes of many nations would follow the bison herds as they crossed this tributary during their migration. Spanish and French explorers “claimed” this land after Coronado’s expedition. Of course this led to conflict with the Great Plains people over competition for the riches of the land, that being fur. This was a popular river for trappers, including Jedediah Smith, up until the 1840’s when the fur trade began to decline.
Today, and for thousands of years in the past, the Platte River is a primary corridor in the Central Flyway for migratory birds. Millions of ducks and geese use this river as they migrate to their wintering grounds and then again on their way back to Alaska and Canada to their nesting grounds. Other species besides ducks and geese include trumpeter and tundra swans, the whooping crane, the piping glover, and many others. Plant life abounds along this tributary including switch grass, big and little bluestem, willow, and cottonwood.
As I mentioned earlier, I was introduced to this river years ago. This past spring I was re-introduced to this phenomenal wildlife ecosystem on a journey chasing Merriam gobblers. Through our outfitter, Larry Ellis with EWA Hunting, Sam, Don, and I met Steve Farris. You may remember him as a member of the band “Mister Mister.” His passion for making this region better for waterfowl and other wildlife species is beyond anything imaginable.
The time we all spent chasing gobblers was just the precursor for the dialogue on wildlife management and how fragile our waterways, like the Platte, really are. The time, effort, and money that go into enhancing and protecting this and other valuable resources are indescribable. The fruits of the effort however are realized by seeing thousands of mallards set their wings to rest upon sloughs along the Platte. Or maybe it culminates by watching a world class buck lope through frost laden grass with steam rising off his back as he chases a doe to perpetuate the species. Or perhaps, the friendships that become everlasting by the commonality of hunting and the outdoors make it all the worthwhile.
Regardless, we must all realize how valuable rivers and streams, like the Platte, are to not only our lives but for the history they hold within and for what they offer for our future. Something to think about, don’t you agree? Thank you for the article idea, Sam, and thank you for the toast to the river at the shack, Steve. We’ll see you soon.
Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.