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Parks and Recreation

Opportunities for recreation are abundant in the Kearney community with such excellent entities as the Kearney Park and Recreation Department, the Kearney Family YMCA and several health facilities all providing residents of any age with a variety of activities and programs.

Recreational sites not to be missed in the area include the 150-plus-acre Fort Kearny State Recreation Area and the Tri-City BMX Track.


The Peterson Senior Activity Center’s mission is to support the independence and well-being of adults 50 and older, enhance their dignity and self respect, promote their participation in all aspects of community life through creative programming and providing opportunities and resources in the areas of physical and mental well-being, nutrition, recreation and education.


The Kearney Park and Recreation Department offers residents a number of facilities and recreational areas, as well as a full range of year-round programming for all ages. The department oversees 14 city parks, most notably the 80-acre Yanney Heritage Park, the 100-acre Cottonmill Park and the Meadowlark North Dog Park. Amenities found through the city parks include everything from ball diamonds; soccer fields; basketball and tennis courts; and areas for swimming, boating and fishing to disc golf, picnic sites, 14 miles of hiking and biking trails and playground equipment.


Serving more than 5,000 members in the community, the Kearney Family YMCA is a modern facility equipped with two full-sized gyms, racquetball courts, two tracks, a pool, group exercise studios, a fitness center and much more. The YMCA’s diverse programs are available for members of all ages. This facility is the only YMCA in the country to offer free membership to residents 80 years of age and older.


Operated jointly by the city and county, the Cottonmill Lake Recreation Area includes 98 acres of land and a 43-acre lake for fishing, paddle boating and swimming. There is also a separate pond designated for swimming. Picnicking, walking natural and hard-surfaced trails and visiting the nature barn are other activities enjoyed by visitors. Winter sports include cross-country skiing, sledding, ice-skating and ice-fishing.


The Fort Kearny State Recreation Area is 152 acres of outdoor beaches, swimming, fishing, camping, picnicking and the 1.8-mile Fort Kearny Hike Bike Trail—with one bridge over the Platte River. Showers and changing rooms are available. The area is located just one mile east of the historical park, and a Nebraska State Park Permit is required.


The first sign that spring is coming is brought by the sights and sounds of nearly half a million sandhill cranes. This is the largest gathering of sandhill cranes in the world. The cranes stop at the Platte River during their annual northern migration from their wintering areas in the southern United States and Mexico. There are also geese, ducks, bald eagles and other waterfowl to be observed in wetland areas. Audubon Nebraska’s Rowe Sanctuary is central Nebraska’s only wildlife sanctuary located on the main channel of the Platte River.

Visitors view cranes from enclosed observation blinds on guided field trips during March and early April. Owned and managed by the National Audubon Society, the original purchase of 782 acres in 1974, which was funded by Lillian Annette Rowe, included 2.5 miles of river channel, wet meadows and some agricultural fields. Additional land acquisitions have increased the current size to 1,248 acres. The Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at the Rowe Sanctuary is the second largest straw bale-constructed building in the United States. The building provides indoor classrooms, educational displays, conference rooms, a viewing area of the river and much more. With the center, year-round education opportunities exist for local schools and the general public.

Serious nature photographers may use one of three photo blinds set up close to the major crane roost sites on the river. A Rivers and Wildlife Celebration (Spring River Conference) is held in Kearney in March. The conference provides the opportunity to learn more about the Platte River, cranes, prairies and conservation efforts.

Fossil records indicate that the cranes have been visiting the Platte River region for millions of years. For six weeks each spring, visitors have the opportunity to experience the sights and sounds of 90 percent of the world’s sandhill cranes, when they stay long enough to build up the strength to continue their migration.

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