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Whitewater Group One of Many Hoping to Repeat Last Year’s Fundraising Success

A Kearney App Exclusive by Travis Hollman

On December 4th, thousands of supporters are expected to donate to more than 120 organizations during Kearney’s second “Give Where You Live” fundraising event. The event is a one-day fundraising effort hosted by the Kearney Area Community Foundation in an attempt to “unite donors in the Kearney area to support nonprofits and improve our quality of life.”

Last year, ninety-nine organizations participated and became the beneficiaries of nearly half a million dollars. In terms of number of donations, the Kearney Whitewater Association took home the top honor in 2013.

“This is an important time of year for us as far as fundraising,” said Carson Rowh, president of KWA. “I’ve been out speaking a lot about our organization’s efforts to build the whitewater park and trail in Kearney, but I’m not alone. Our group is made up of a lot of passionate people who are putting a lot of effort into making this a reality.”

KWA’s flagship project is the proposed project known as the Kearney Whitewater Park and Trail.

“We want to transform Turkey Creek and the Kearney Canal Tailrace into a recreational water trail with phase one starting at 11th Street and extending a half mile south along Yanney Park,” said Bruce Karnatz, a local agronomist who helped start the KWA Facebook page and website, along with several other members.

Karnatz doesn’t claim to be an avid whitewater kayaker or rafter himself.

“I looked at this great resource running right through Kearney and thought it was a shame that it wasn’t being enjoyed by more people,” said Karnatz. “I knew that there had to be more people out there who felt the same way I did.”

That’s when he ran across an online video of Rowh and his friend, Cory Prellwitz, showing the two whitewater kayaking, an interest they liken to others who are passionate hunters or golfers.

“Bruce contacted us and asked if we wanted to be involved in opening up access to the water in Kearney,” said Prellwitz, who co-owns Ashley Furniture Store in Kearney and Grand Island with Rowh. “It was kind of informal and unstructured at first. We sat down with him and a few other supporters for a burger and beer at Jersey’s one night and sketched out a plan. We thought it was a good idea.”

The plan has become much more formal since the early days at the sports bar.

“We formed a non-profit a couple years ago,” said Rowh. “Our board is composed of nine diverse members, from business owners, carpenters, basketball coaches, marketing people, and everything in between.”

Rowh said that, early on, the City of Kearney and NPPD hired a well-known, professional designer to explore some possibilities for the whitewater park and trail. The designer came up with four different plans, from Olympic-caliber, to much simpler. KWA continues to put out new videos in an attempt to address concerns that the public might have about the evolving plans.

“Cost was obviously a concern with that high-end plan,” said Rowh. “But that’s not the plan we’re looking to implement. Overall, the public has been overwhelmingly supportive and positive about pursuing the water park.”

In addition to costs, the group said they occasionally hear concerns about property rights and liability issues.

“These are legitimate concerns,” said Rowh. “But they are manageable. We think most the funds can be raised without tax dollars and that the positive economic impact has been proven in court cases involving other water parks in the United States. Maintenance costs are very minimal. We also have plans in the works for coordinating the other issues with NPPD and the City. Honestly, the toughest challenge we’re facing right now is trying to coordinate all the different stakeholders and make sure we do this in a way that’s going to work for everyone.”

Still, the issue needed to be raised on whether or not the water park is necessary at all. Is it simply one of those pet projects desired by a small group of nostalgic dreamers who don’t want to travel to Colorado to experience the rapids?

“Some of my earliest memories growing up are with my dad paddling out on the Platte on Sundays,” said Prellwitz. “But, look, we’ve held events where we’ve had participants as young as four months to as old as eighty floating out on the canal . . . handicapped, able-bodied, men, women, everyone. There is wide appeal and the public is really expressing a lot of support.”

Karnatz chimed in.

“I think there is a lot of cleanup that needs to be done on the canal. Our group is really dedicated to making this a nice feature for the community. For those of us who don’t get on the water as often as others, we could still benefit from the cleanup and beautification efforts. I am in favor of conserving this resource rather than continuing to ignore it.”

“I just want to add,” said Rowh, “that we are standing at the threshold of something big and there are so few opportunities to leave a legacy like this for future generations. The rock garden at Harmon Park is an example of one project put together decades ago by a passionate group like ours and it’s still being enjoyed. If we want to compete with other towns for tourism and big events, we should be embracing what we have that is unique rather than focusing on the same things every other town on the Interstate already has.”

On December 4th, KWA hopes to raise enough funds through “Give Where You Live” to hire an engineering firm to spec out the logistics of the whitewater park and trail. Admittedly, there will be more than a hundred other organizations also hoping to raise money for equally noteworthy causes. But there seems to be something about the impassioned fan base supporting the whitewater trail that has kept this project generating buzz on the local radar.

The three-phase whitewater project has a long ways to go . . . and so do many of the other projects proposed by various organizations trying to raise money in the community. Certainly, the half a million dollars raised at last year’s “Give Where You Live” event was helpful in progressing those projects forward. There’s something of a “non-taxing feeling” to the idea of residents getting to choose themselves how to spend their dollars on a very individual and personal level.

Whether or not one particular organization stands out of the crowd at this year’s event will probably be of little concern in the end. On December 5th, the storyline will more likely center around the overall impact felt by the collection of Kearney-area organizations who benefited from their supporters’ contributions.

Editor’s note: KWA’s Give Where You Live donation page can be found at http://givewhereyoulive.razoo.com/Kearney-Whitewater-Park-2014. The group is also hosting an event December 4th from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at Yanney Heritage Park. More information about Give Where You Live and the other organizations that are participating can be found at http://givewhereyoulive.razoo.com/.

How a Kid on a Bicycle Restored My Faith in Interns

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A Kearney App Exclusive by Travis Hollman

“I was lying in a ditch outside of Haswell, Colorado. I thought we were in a tornado. We were so cold and scared.”

Neil Emeigh, a UNK junior from Wilber, Nebraska sat down with me to recall the lowest point of his summer attempt to ride his bicycle from Kearney to San Francisco. He set out on the trip with his roommate and friend, Seth Schnakenberg.

My own relationship with Emeigh was previously an employer-employee one; Emeigh was an intern for my company during the spring semester of 2014. As an intern, I remembered him as a good kid, smart and confident, but his mind always seemed to be somewhere else—on an adventure somewhere. He reminded me a lot of myself at a younger age. I knew it would be hard to keep him tethered to the computer for long.

Just hours after his semester and his internship ended, I heard that he had already hit the road and was pedaling west.

“The day we started, I’m not sure we ever really expected to make it all the way to San Francisco,” said Emeigh. “We were optimists, but also realists.”

Back home at the office, we had a pool of sorts that we started. How many miles would Neil make it before he threw in the towel? That was the premise. The jab was aimed less at Emeigh and more at the absurdity of the situation. The unique timing of his employment meant that we never had him work on a project that had a prayer of being finished. He was stuck tinkering with pieces that were nothing more than interesting concepts and broken pipe dreams.

I had personally observed our intern “training” two weeks prior to his departure by tugging a tiny bike trailer down an incredibly flat stretch of Highway 30 between Kearney and Gibbon. I put him down for 800 miles in our office pool.

But it didn’t take much more than five days and 300 miles for Emeigh’s emotions to hit rock bottom on his extended journey of struggle and self-reflection.

“A farmer finally picked us up out of the ditch and let us stay in an abandoned sod shack that was falling apart. We just sat inside the tiny shack, freezing the whole day and listening to the wind howl. I was wondering what I got myself into. I probably teared up a bit.”

Still, Emeigh said he didn’t consider giving up just yet . . . that came on Day 7. That was when the two finally hit the foothills of the Rockies.

“We got our butts kicked that day. At that point, we knew we weren’t going to make it.”

Things were looking bad for me, too, at least as far as the office pool was concerned. Although I didn’t know it yet, he was barely halfway to my projected 800-mile mark and he had already run out of spirit.

But the pair decided to reevaluate their goals rather than quit completely.

“So at Pueblo we said, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it just be cool to say we made it over the Rockies, or to Utah or Nevada, or wherever? Let’s just see how far we can get.’”

They quickly adopted a just-make-it-over-this-next-mountain mentality and slowly, but persistently chipped through the Rockies.

Emeigh said that the physical demands of the trip only took a proportionally small toll.

“The mental aspect was by far the biggest challenge. I have so much more patience now than I did before. You have to learn patience when you spend night after night after night next to your friend in a little tent in the middle of nowhere.”

Although he said he usually wasn’t concerned about making it out alive, I was quietly concerned for him back home. A few days after his departure, I packed the family into the car and headed southwest for a couple weeks to attempt my own mission—a vacation. We found ourselves intersecting many of the same roads that Emeigh had just travelled. I began to plan some imaginary rendezvous points in my head to see if we might be able to catch up with him and toss him a sandwich.

Each day, I tracked his progress through his blog at LifeJourneyed.com. Riding in the car, I sometimes read the posts to my wife. I found myself cheering for him a little more each day. I really didn’t care about the pool. Especially not now.

By Day 15, I became worried.

“Neil’s out of water,” I told my wife. “He’s in the desert.” So were we, and it was hot. I scowled as I read on. “He says that they are pretty much out with no idea where to refill. That was his last post and that was a couple days ago.”

“Maybe he’s just out of range . . . or tired,” my wife assured me. “The reception out here is terrible.”

Probably. Still, I wondered if we should change our course and sacrifice a couple days of our own trip to go find out. I tried to check my phone to calculate the logistics. No signal. I knew at this point that we were pulling further away from his current location with every hour that we drove.

I decided to wait out the uncertainty. The next morning in the hotel, I got up a little earlier than usual. I grabbed my phone off the nightstand and cursed as I tried to get the public wi-fi to work. Eventually I was able to pull up the blog.

He was back!

“Running out of water was scary,” Emeigh recalled to me during our interview. “We were meeting just one car every four or five hours. Our last water source was thirty miles behind us. We were just so thirsty all the time. Our lips were cracking and the situation was getting a little worse with every mile.”

Initially, he wasn’t too worried about their long-term outlook. He was confident they’d find water.

“We knew we had Lake Powell coming up so we assumed there would be tons of places to refill. But when we got there, our route had us 200 feet up from the water with no access because of all the sheer cliffs. It was a tough surprise, but we had no choice. We just kept on going and finally we reached an access road.”

They started processing lake water by hand using a manual filter that they packed in their tiny bike trailer.

“We spent over two hours filtering water before we felt replenished. Then we filled up the bottles.”

Emeigh first told me of this story and about a dozen others right after he returned from the trip. He dropped by the office one day to pick up his last paycheck that he impatiently left behind. I was fascinated by what I heard. He actually lived the kinds of adventures that used to live only in my own wandering head. I wanted to hear more.

“Well, I’ve got a plane to catch to Korea to learn Taekwondo,” he told me. “It’ll have to wait.”

“How about when you get back from Korea?” I asked.

“Headed to Florida.”

And that’s how it went with Neil. He was teaching me patience . . . or at least teaching me a lesson for keeping myself tethered to a computer all day. When I was finally able to catch up with him again this week, he spewed out dozens of adventures from the bike journey alone.

“ . . . That was my seventh day without a shower . . . I ordered a 20-piece nugget, two Big Macs, a couple burgers, and a large fry just to satisfy my hunger . . . The couple that took us in for the night asked us at dinner if we thought they were murderers . . . just another two feet the other way and I would have gone over the guardrail and never been seen again . . . ”

He was starting to sound like The Most Interesting Man in the World.

I suggested that he drive the route in ten years with a camcorder and a creative writer to track down the people and places and reflect on the previous decade. I thought it would make worthy documentary material.

Emeigh does plan on driving the route again some day, but it’s too soon for him right now. He said he has to suppress thinking about the trip too much because “reliving it is too nostalgic” and it easily “consumes” him. He does think often about the “great” people he met along the way, but he has never tried to contact any of them. He also doesn’t plan on riding the route ever again on a bicycle.

“This was a one-time thing,” he said. “It was great, but it also sucked. I don’t want to repeat it.”

“What about your next adventure?” That question was a given.

“I’m currently considering kayaking from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.”

Emeigh said that he now divides his life up into two segments: life before the bike ride and life after the bike ride.

“About a month ago was the first time I ate a peanut butter sandwich since the journey,” said Emeigh, noting that this was his primary diet for the entire trip. “A flood of memories instantly hit me. I have so much more appreciation for life now. I had so much time to think, reflect, and observe the smallest things while we were pedaling. I have a new outlook.”

As for the Neil before and the Neil after, I completely agreed. He was still the same kid, but I was now able to see a new side of him. He wasn’t just an intern anymore. As with many interns, you just hope the experiences you share together aren’t a disaster and something productive comes out of it. You just want them to leave having finished something. It always felt unfinished with Neil.

“I’m going to pedal all the way to San Francisco, Travis,” he told me right before he ended his internship with me.

“Sure, kid,” I laughed. “Show me you can finish something.”

He did. On Day 29, he and Schnakenberg reached the Golden Gate Bridge, days ahead of schedule.

“We just looked at each other and nodded,” Emeigh said. “No words were necessary.”

Nobody ended up winning the office pool…except for Neil, of course. I didn’t even tell him about it until long after he returned. He just laughed.

“You just had me down for 800 miles?”

I should have put him down for 2,006.

Next time I’ll have a little more faith. Next time I’ll offer a bigger challenge.

– copyright 2014 Hollman Media, LLC. The Kearney App: Your interesting news source.

Bigger than Baseball: Caspers Say It’s a “Cultural Thing” for Kearney

casperA Kearney App Exclusive by Travis Hollman

“I’m a kid…I don’t understand politics.”

Thirteen-year-old Mason Casper was being pressed on the issue of whether or not he thought the recently-approved restaurant occupation tax was necessary for the future of baseball and softball in Kearney. Voters approved the tax, which will fund approximately ten new fields in Kearney.

His dad, Scott Casper, sat quietly at the other end of the table and watched his son take on the tough questions. For the Caspers, it was a familiar scenario. Mason’s dad often found himself on the Little League sidelines, whether it was in his role as a coach watching Mason take on fast balls, or in his role as a fan and dad cheering from the cheap seats as his son delivered his own share of fastballs from the mound.

But when it came to political perspective, Mason preferred to bunt the question in favor of focusing on the bigger picture.

“In our bathroom at home is a picture of me taken shortly after I made a big double play against Iowa,” said Mason. “It’s one of the best things that ever happened to me. That’s what I think about. That’s what I care about.”

For his dad, the lessons learned from youth sports are just as much about the losses as they are about the wins. Regardless of which way the vote turned out during the November election, life would go on. Casper believes that the competitiveness of youth sports is a healthy quality that should carry over into adulthood.

“The objective is to win the game and to defeat and outperform the opposition,” said Casper. “Everyone should want to win and try to win, but let’s not lose perspective. We coach children and they will find themselves on the other end of the scoreboard many times in their lives. That’s when our kids should learn the important lessons and that’s why you should let the game be what it is, regardless of the final score. Effort is what counts. The game goes on.”

Mason chimed in with that sentiment.

“The Kearney coaches teach us that there is a difference between losing and getting beat,” said Mason, referencing the idea that losing the game after a great effort was one thing, but giving up before the game was over was another. “It’s okay to lose. It’s not okay to let yourself get beat.”

As a coach, Mason said that his dad is as good as it gets.

“I want to be like my dad. I want to coach one day. He is the coach that is always funny and uplifting…as long as you are giving your team a good effort.”

Mason said that nerves can be touchy, especially when playing larger venues like Indianapolis, which his team experienced last year.

“It’s better than the major leagues. You feel like you’ve made it.”

When asked how his dad handles the kids during the big games, Mason didn’t hesitate.

“I think he gets it. We get nervous because we want to impress them, but dad always says ‘don’t say don’t.’ Just focus on doing.”

“No kid wants to strike out or make a mistake,” said the elder Casper. “There’s no sense in getting down on a kid who made a mistake that resulted from a good effort. He didn’t want to make the mistake. Adults who yell at kids for missing a basket or dropping a ball will only make the kid scared to try it again.”

Casper said that concept should be carried over into all aspects of the game.

“The only thing worse than a bad official is a stressed, bad official. Fans of youth sports who go too far aren’t helping the game. Everyone is going to make mistakes.”

Both father and son embraced the sport at a very early age. Dad reflected on growing up in the 1970’s and 80’s and how the landscape has changed over the years.

“There’s been a specialization of sorts going on in recent years,” said Casper. “Many kids are expected to have their sport picked by age nine and to focus almost exclusively on it. I think that’s a bad thing. Kids need to be given time to grow and round themselves out, and find out what they love to do.”

But Casper was quick to point out that he thinks Kearney is different.

“The coaches in Kearney get it. They know it’s about the kids and exposing them to different activities and experiences.”

When asked why he believes Kearney has had such success with its ball programs at a regional and national level, Casper pointed again to the culture in Kearney.

“I think that baseball and softball is in our blood. There are a lot of local advocates who are passionate about it and the interest and success becomes kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

When asked if he ever thought he’d get burnt out on baseball, Mason’s response was quick and emphatic.

“No! I think I will always have a love for the game and follow it, even if I can’t always play it. If I could, I would practice all the time with my dad, but sometimes I have to settle for tossing the ball around the house by myself or making up baseball-like games with a couple friends.”

His dad laughed.

“We literally have no decorations left in our living room. I’m okay with that.”

Without baseball, Mason said he believes he would just resort to playing video games and lounging around while “getting fat.”

His dad disagreed.

“I think another activity would fill the void. There’s more than just baseball.”

Mason, a Kearney Catholic eighth-grader participates in a variety of activities including basketball, football, and robotics. But baseball remains his favorite activity and most of his athletic aspirations center around that little white ball and his two favorite positions: second base and pitcher.

“I’d like to visit Williamsport some day,” he said, referring to the home of the Little League World Series. “I’ve heard stories from friends who have been there…that’s where memories are made.”

Few would disagree that Williamsport is a breeding ground for memories and memorabilia, but Kearney is filled with thousands of parents and millions of fond memories of weedy sandlots from previous generations. Whether it was a win or a loss twenty years ago doesn’t matter so much now. Time has a way of softening even the worse of losses into the best of memories.

Regardless of how the vote could have turned out during the recent election, the game will always go on…not just in Kearney, not just for the Caspers, but in the minds of all those who learned those intricate life lessons through something as simple as picking up a ball and failing over and over again in hopes of that one big play or that one big win.

“Hitting a baseball is hard,” said Mason, “and even if you put it into play, odds are that they’ll still get you out. The game is about that small percentage of times when the ball goes the way you want it to.”

– copyright 2014 Hollman Media, LLC. The Kearney App: Your interesting news source.