Nebraska Passport Program kicks off, features 11 Panhandle sites

Dennis Miller and his crew put in months removing walls and a drop ceiling at the Most Unlikely Place to open up space for an art gallery and other functions and to show off the historic building's architecture. The Most Unlikely Place is listed on this year's Nebraska Passport Program.

Not long after the stops for the Nebraska Passport Program were announced, the tourism industry was forced to come to a halt. As restrictions have begun to ease, travel is picking back up. On Monday, the Passport Program, which includes a number of western Nebraska stops, officially kicked off.

The program, put on by Nebraska Tourism, encourages Nebraskans and tourists to travel around the state to collect stamps while supporting destinations and businesses. Travelers have until Oct. 31 to collect stamps, and those who do have a shot at prizes.

Sara Cottrell, who owns French Door Antique Mall with her husband, said she was thrilled to be selected as a participant. She felt like being a stop would give them a chance to let people know about the other things Sidney has to offer, in addition to highlighting their own business.

“Honestly, a big part of why we were excited was to help draw more people to Sidney,” she said. “With everything that happened with Cabela’s, we as locals and store owners are excited to show people we are doing just fine and we aren’t going anywhere.”

The couple is from the Sidney area, and wanted to stay there, even as the community faced the loss of Cabela’s.

“The original owner of the store was in a similar boat, but they decided to leave and had to sell the store,” Cottrell said. “We had never done anything like this before but something about it seemed right. We bought the store in 2017 and we absolutely love it.”

Steph Mantooth, owner of Steph’s Studio in Alliance, said this is her first time as a Passport stop.

“I was really excited and honored when we learned we were selected,” Mantooth said.

In addition to offering photography services, Mantooth also offers printing, framing and scrapbooking services, in addition to monthly classes, calling the store a “one-stop shop.”

The operator’s of the family-owned Scottsbluff restaurant, Rosita’s, said in an email that they, too, are honored to be a stop. This was their first year applying, although the restaurant has been in the area for 50 years. Known for made-to-order panchos and taco shells, Rosita’s started in Lyman as Lerma’s Café. Margarita Lerma opened her business, and had help from her son, Paul, along the way. Paul eventually took over and moved the restaurant to Scottsbluff and renamed it Rosita’s. Today, it’s managed by his children.

There are a number of Passport stops in the Panhandle including:

—Alliance: Brewery 719, 817 E Third St.

—Alliance: Steph’s Studio, 210 Box Butte Ave.

—Chadron: Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center, 1000 Main St.

—Crawford: Hudson-Meng Research and Education Center, 1811 Meng Drive

—Hemingford: Village Pizza, 404 Niobrara Ave.

—Kimball: Kimball Bakery, 124 S. Chestnut St.

—Lewellen: The Most Unlikely Place, 205 Main St.

—Scottsbluff: Cappuccino and Company, 1703 Broadway

—Scottsbluff: Rosita’s, 1205 East Overland

—Sidney: French Door Antique Mall and Creative Boutique, 1516 10th Ave.

—Potter: The Potter Sundry, 324 Chestnut St.

Participants can order a Passport through the website, or pick up one up at any destination. It is also recommended that travelers download the Nebraska Passport app, by searching it in their app store. With the app, they get digital stamps, supplementing the physical booklet. Program updates will also be sent out through the app.

In a press release from the Nebraska Tourism Commission, executive director John Ricks said the organization has been looking forward to the start of the Passport program.

“Not only is the Passport a great way to experience what the state has to offer, it’s a great way to support the tourism destinations in our state when they need it most,” said Ricks. “We feel that the Nebraska Passport fits well into social distancing and desired group sizes and can be tailored by anyone to fit their comfort level as the recovery process begins.”

The release also said that Gov. Pete Ricketts is asking participants to follow current health measures, and encourages them to take steps to protect themselves while traveling including staying six feet apart, frequent hand washing, avoiding contact with your eyes, nose or mouth, and covering coughs and sneezes. Updated state guidelines can be found on www.COVID.Nebraska.gov

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that frequent stops for gas, food and bathroom breaks can lead to close contact situations. More travel tips can be found at cdc.gov. For more information about travel destinations in Nebraska, including those not featured in the Passport program, check out visitnebraska.com

ome Passport stops have different hours of operation, are offering limited services, or had plans to open after June 1 because of COVID-19. Updates about Passport stops can be found at nebraskapassport.com.

We're always interested in hearing about news in our community. Let us know what's going on!

Kamie Stephen is a reporter with the Star-Herald. She can be reached at 308-632-9041 or via email at kamie.stephen@starherald.com.

Kamie Stephen is a reporter with the Star-Herald. She can be reached at 308-632-9041 or via email at kamie.stephen@starherald.com.

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