Mark Engler is superintendent of the National Park Service attraction that commemorates the Homestead Act of 1862.
Engler says 2017 was the best year in park history, thanks in part to the total solar eclipse for which the monument was an official NASA viewing site.
“Absolutely, it was worth it,” Engler says. “We’re still seeing the ripple effects from the eclipse back in August and I anticipate we’re going to see these ripple effects for quite some time.”
The park recorded 123,399 visitors last year, eclipsing the previous record, set in 2012 when more than 103,000 people visited during the 150th anniversary of the federal act.
Hosting the eclipse event means many thousands of people now know exactly how to find the monument and they may make a return trip.
“Also, there’s the benefit that just comes from people learning more about our corner of the nation, our corner of the state,” Engler says, “and the pride that comes with that.”
The increased attendance, Engler says, carries with it a solid economic impact for the region, with increased spending associated with the higher visitation.
In June, the monument will host a major event that celebrates the days of the one-room school house, the annual conference of the National Country School Association.
“We’ll be hosting one-room school enthusiasts from across the nation here and it’ll be a great opportunity for people to learn about our community and learn about the monument,” Engler says. “Once they learn about the monument and the community, I’m sure they’ll be sharing their experiences with others back home.”
The Homestead features the Freeman School, a one-room school house, just west of the Education Center.
The Homestead National Monument, four miles west of Beatrice, is open every day, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
By Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice