Tag Archives: fishing

Fishing With Flair

August 20, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Andrew Flair uploaded his first video to YouTube at age 15. As video productions go, there wasn’t much to it: four rough-cut minutes of Flair—then a freshman at Millard North—standing on the shore of a pond in suburban Omaha, fishing for bass. 

Flair, who turned 21 this year, has been fishing the waters in and around Omaha nearly his entire life. “As soon as I could hold a reel I was fishing,” he remembers. A love for the sport was passed down from his father, and the first videos Flair uploaded to his YouTube channel, Fishing with Flair, were made primarily for an audience of family and friends. “Just sharing tips,” he says. “Not much more than videos of me catching fish then tossing them back.” 

Quickly, though, Flair was posting fishing videos at a rate of two to three a week. While these early clips left much to be desired in terms of entertainment value, those formative years were, if nothing else, a full-immersion education in video editing and ease before a camera. 

The six years that have passed since Flair’s first upload are, in internet time, an eternity. As of this writing, Fishing with Flair is gaining new subscribers at a rate of roughly 25 to 30 thousand a month. 

What’s drawing them? Flair, mainly. After starring in more than 800 episodes, Flair’s natural charm and enthusiasm have a way of gluing your eyes to the screen. The content is fun, too. There are the “Barbie Rod Challenge” clips, the big-catch excursions to Mexico, and more. One episode finds Flair in full swamp camo, lying in the reeds of a golf course pond, trying to catch whatever he can while avoiding the eye of the fairway police carting overhead. 

As viewership rose over the years, Flair found himself bringing in a modest but regular income from ads placed before his videos.  

The moment of truth came the summer after graduation. Flair remembers, “I had just finished high school, was working at Scheels, and was enrolled to start college in the fall. I’d just bought a new truck but didn’t really have any other expenses since I still lived with my parents. It was all or nothing, so I just went for it.” Flair dropped out of the University of Nebraska-Omaha and has been fishing for a living ever since. 

To say that Flair is a professional YouTuber is an oversimplification. More accurately, he is a documentarian, brand manager, fisherman, duck hunter, and burgeoning media mogul with his hand in at least a half dozen business ventures, all of which are connected by a long spool of monofilament line to that original clip of a high school freshman casting for bass one day after school.

While the “work” of regularly passing your days with a line in the water from sunrise to sunset may sound enviable to some, there are a whole host of other labors that are inherent to YouTube fame.   

For one, there’s the editing, reducing several hours of footage into one digestible 15-minute clip. There is also the attendant Instagramming, Snapchatting, Tweeting, and across-the-board brand sustenance required for life as a professional internet personality. All of which, by the way, must occur on a daily (at minimum) basis for fear of losing follower interest.

One can imagine that a less ambitious 21-year-old might stop here. For Flair, though, YouTube fame is only the launching pad to what has quickly become a multi-armed media machine. In fall 2016, Flair partnered with four other YouTube fishing personalities from across the country—each of them charismatic 20-somethings in their own right, producing fun and informative fishing content. The collective dubbed themselves The Googan Squad—“googan” being a pejorative term for the lowest of lowlife fishermen, an epithet often lobbed at the loud-talking, bank-sitting, fresh-water anglers that more seasoned sportsmen hope to avoid.  

The name solidified the young entrepreneurs’ image as a band of rogues, while also allowing them to court sponsors with greater clout. “Once we’d joined together under one name, we could approach advertisers and say honestly that we had access to 3.5 million viewers between the five of us,” Flair says. 

Today, the Googan Squad collectively owns a home in Dallas, Texas, that serves both as corporate office and crash pad for fishing excursions throughout the state. 

For Flair, what started as a hobby now includes a signature gear collection, a clothing line, a printing company, a mobile fishing app, and a private coffee label. 

On July 3, Flair and his teammates unveiled their biggest endeavor yet, their own line of patented bait and lures, Googan Baits. After heavy cross-platform promotion (the Googan Baits Instagram account boasted over 50 thousand followers before even making a single post) the first run of product sold out in 25 minutes.     

With so much momentum at his back, what awaits Flair in the murky waters of the future? “None of this has been done before, so it’s tough to tell,” he says. “I want to ride this out as long as I can. It will definitely come to an end. All celebrity comes to an end. I’d be fairly shocked if this lasts more than five years.” 

For now, as long as the fish and followers are biting, Flair will keep baiting the hook.


Find Flair’s latest videos on his YouTube channel with the simple handle “Flair,” or catch him on Snapchat (aflair430), Facebook (Fishing with Flair), Instagram (Fishing_with_Flair), or Twitter (@fishinwithflair).

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Turn a Crappy Day into a Crappie Day

June 11, 2018 by
Photography by Doug Meigs
Illustration by Mady Besch

Nebraska is home to an abundant crappie fishery. During the spawning season in late April, anyone can feel like a pro fisherman while catching a mess of black or white crappies (two species found throughout the state) when the bite is aggressive.

But locating them year-round can be tricky. With knowledge of how the seasons affect crappie migration and feeding, you too can pull slabs in the heat of summer, on a cool autumn day, through the ice, and even right after ice out, says Daryl Bauer, an experienced crappie angler and fisheries biologist for Nebraska Game & Parks.

When the ice is just coming off the lakes, look for them in shallow coves, he says. The shallows retain the warmth of the springtime sun better than the depths do. Look near submerged structures: logs, bushes, or reeds. Crappies love bulrush, Bauer says. Don’t forget that the crappie is a predator. For bait, nothing beats a plain old minnow, though jigs are a popular choice as well. He says crappie can take crankbaits bigger than most anglers would think. You might just hook a nice one while bass-fishing in shallow coves. You will see they aren’t just “paper-mouths,” they can strike like bass.

Later in April, crappies nest and spawn. Bauer applies his same fishing strategy from ice-out: shallow coves and structure, but expect less roaming. Look for areas protected by the wind. Canals and docks are a safe bet. They are not typically difficult to find this time of year—look for truckloads of anglers standing shoulder to shoulder on the shoreline. It is not hard to catch your limit quickly on the right day. (The 2018 possession limit for panfish—including crappie—is 15.)

In the summertime, the weather heats up, but the crappie fishing doesn’t. Nice ones can still be caught, though. Bauer suggests fishermen to seek drop-offs and deeper portions of shallow coves and nesting areas. The crappie follow their prey out into open water. Food is abundant for crappie, so they can be difficult to catch when dispersed throughout a lake. During the summertime, it may be easiest to use a boat to track them. The crappie may roam or suspend this time of year. Wind makes fishing unpredictable.

The fall is similar to the summer, except that crappies are even more likely to school closer together and they tend to suspend. Fall is also the second-most active season for crappie. Cover as much water as possible. Bauer says that Southerners have success trolling for crappie during summer and fall; however, the technique isn’t widely known in Nebraska. “It would work,” he says.

Winter gets interesting. Ice is the great equalizer. Ice fishermen have access to more water than boatless shore anglers, Bauer explains. It will be easier to access the deeper areas where crappies tend to school up and suspend. Therefore, drill and jig deeper areas on the edge of shallows that are productive in spring. The ice protects the water from winds, so fishing is more predictable. If you don’t have a sonar device to put you on crappies, move around and drill a lot of holes. Fish the bottom until crappie are located, then fish above them for the best results. Bauer says you might not get any crappies, but if you do, you’re on the school. Ice fishing gear is nice, but he says you can fish the ice just fine with a normal rod and reel.

From ice-out through the winter, crappie fishing is productive in Nebraska waters. Bauer knows from experience (and from the scientific data). He publishes Nebraska Game & Parks’ annual fishing forecast, which includes suggested waters for targeting crappie (and other game fish). He identified Wehrspann Lake in West Omaha and Wanahoo Reservoir near Wahoo (west of Omaha) among the state’s top-prospective crappie waters for 2018. Find the full fishing forecast on the Game & Parks website.


Visit outdoornebraska.gov for more information.

This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of OmahaHome.

 

Outdoor Entrepreneurship

May 23, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There have been a few viral online videos for Ultimate Fishing Gear’s Skinzit electric fish skinner. The handheld device can also been seen on the rack at Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shops, or on Amazon.com. Chris Kielian, an Omaha-area native and one of four owners of Ultimate Fishing Gear, says he crunched the numbers, and then sat back, amazed—the owners did not expect their product to generate $1.4 million in sales in the first year.

The prototype of the Skinzit was made from an electric tool.

The Skinzit is a machine that removes rib bones and skin from a scaled-fish fillet, leaving the meat intact. Kielan says the device produces 30 percent more meat than a typical fillet because the device allows one to spare the belly meat rather than simply discarding it. Simply cut the fillets from the sides of the fish, and Kielian says, “the device does the rest.” With a bucket of 10 panfish, 30 percent more meat per fish adds up fast. Kielian’s business partners are his brother, Brian, and brothers Eric and Perry Parks. They all share a love of fishing. Chris says they each contribute their unique skill sets to make their business successful. Chris is the main sales and marketing person. The partners agree that leaving their money in the business will help it grow. “We as owners don’t take much out—we keep it in there. Everything is paid for,” says Chris. “We reinvest.” Chris is able to reinvest because Skinzit is not his main source of income. By day, the Parks brothers run Computer Cable Connections, where the Kielians are also employed. Chris says the idea for Skinzit comes from the Townsend Fish Skinner, which is an out-of-production device that skins fish using the same mechanism, albeit hand-powered and narrower.

It took Chris and his co-owners roughly four years to create the product. Milestones in Skinzit’s actualization include selecting an engineering firm, testing and tweaking prototypes for a number of months, having parts manufactured on the assembly line in the Philippines, and having packages show up on the doorstep ready to sell.

Finished Skinzit product

“It took 4 years to get the first 5,000 (Skinzits),” says Chris. The capital cost was “heavy,” more than $500,000. Ultimate Fishing Gear owns seven patents on their product, which took roughly three years to acquire. A special electronic certification was necessary and recertification is required quarterly. But their greatest asset is their ability to use the internet.

Videos of their invention have racked up more than 30 million views across social media. The product hit the market in 2014, and in 2015 one video created by a customer generated almost 9 million hits. Another video of a customer using the product in late 2016 generated several more million views. Each video causes a large spike in sales.

“[Once you have a viral video], it wipes out your inventory,” says Chris, who suggests that Ultimate Fishing Gear has other ideas for novel products, but he cannot disclose them due to patent reasons. “I wish I could,” he says, sounding hopeful. His advice to other entrepreneurs and inventors is simple: “You need the time to make it work, the cash, and the capital. You want to have a product that no one else has—that was the key to the success of our product.”


Visit fishskinner.com for more information.

From left, Brian Kielian, Chris Kielian, Eric Parks, and Perry Parks

This article was printed in the April/May 2018 edition of B2B.

Kiss an Endangered Fish

March 23, 2018 by
Photography by Doug Meigs

Trotlines catch every bottom-feeding fish imaginable in the Missouri River: channel catfish, freshwater drum, shovelnose sturgeon. Even the occasional blue sucker. But this boat’s crew of biologists and volunteers seek one rarity—the endangered pallid sturgeon.

Watching the line of hooks rise from the water, Dave Crane spots the prize. “Pallid!” he shouts, excitedly, as thick and bony cartilage plates breach the river’s surface.

He and three friends work in unison to pull the 200-foot line on board. Crane carefully removes the pallid sturgeon from a hook; then he passes the precious specimen to a Game & Parks staffer to take its measurements, weigh the fish on a digital scale, and check for hatchery-implanted tags.

“Looks like a shipper,” says fishery biologist Dane Pauley, as the sturgeon goes into a water tank on the boat. Pauley is one of four Game & Parks crew leaders checking trotlines between the Plattsmouth and Nebraska City boat ramps on April 9, 2017, during the annual pallid sturgeon recovery effort known as Broodstock.

A large pallid sturgeon on the scale

A “shipper” (i.e., slang for any sexually mature pallid sturgeon that is not hatchery-raised or has not been previously captured) is a sturgeon that the Game & Parks staff will send to a regional hatchery to ensure that its genetic stock is preserved and repopulated in the river ecosystem.

“I’ve been volunteering with Broodstock every year since 2009,” says Crane, a biologist with the Army Corps of Engineers. “As someone who works on planning and constructing Missouri River habitat restoration projects for a living, it’s a real treat getting hands-on with the fish and seeing firsthand the kind of biological response we’re having. My fieldwork doesn’t typically involve fish; I love getting out on the river like this.”

Broodstock collection—a regional conservation effort—is part of a larger, nationwide pallid sturgeon recovery initiative funded by the Army Corps of Engineers. Local participants include regional and federal stakeholders: Nebraska Game & Parks, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, volunteers from various state agencies, university biology professors, and students (along with their friends and family).

It’s not every day you come face-to-face with one of the American interior’s most endangered species. If you have the opportunity, be prepared to pucker up. Posing for a photo with a pallid sturgeon—and giving the fish a smoocheroo—has become a tradition on the Game & Parks’ boats.

“I’ve probably kissed a sturgeon at least three or four times. Only when we get a bigger one,” says Tim Shew, one of several friends that Crane has introduced to volunteering with Broodstock. “What has been really cool is that we have seen the effect of the program. There are a lot more and bigger pallids than when I started six years ago. Also more wild born. We never saw those for the first couple years.”

Dave Crane carefully handles a pallid sturgeon.

After checking 10 trotlines attached to buoys along the river, the boat crew has captured two shippers, and they caught-and-released countless non-targeted rough fish and hatchery-raised pallid sturgeon. When the boat stops on the side of the river for a sack lunch, it’s almost time to re-bait worms on 400 hooks to be replaced in the river for the next day’s crews.

By the end of the day, volunteers will have a dozen photos of themselves kissing a variety of fish—not just pallid sturgeon. Game & Parks staff record data on every fish pulled out of the water; it has become a valuable data set not only on the endangered species, but the entire Missouri River fishery.

Shipper sturgeons are transported via Game & Parks trucks (with water tanks), heading north to Gavin’s Point Fish Hatchery. After spawning in captivity, the adult fish will return to the river. Their offspring will remain in the tanks until the following spring when the space is needed for the next year’s broodstock.

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, pallid sturgeon are “bottom-dwelling, slow-growing fish that feed primarily on small fish and immature aquatic insects. This species of sturgeon is seldom seen and is one of the least understood fish in the Missouri and Mississippi River drainages.”

Pallid sturgeon are strange-looking creatures with bony back plates, skeletal cartilage rather than bones (common among ancient fish), a reptilian-like tail, and a pointy snout (that is more narrow than its close relative, the shovelnose sturgeon). They have been documented living longer than 60 years and weighing more than 80 pounds. As an endangered fish, they are also illegal to catch and possess (unless you are participating in Broodstock or a similar government-sanctioned recovery effort).

Their fossils date back to the days of dinosaurs, and the fish have likely been swimming the Missouri River as far back as the river has existed. But in the modern era—following rampant dam construction and the Army Corps of Engineers’ channelization of the river for shipping and flood control in the mid-20th century—the pallid sturgeon population collapsed.

Nebraska Game & Parks staff and volunteers during the 2017 Broodstock

Kirk Steffensen is the coordinator of the Broodstock effort on Nebraska’s stretch of the Missouri River. A fisheries biologist with the Nebraska Game & Parks, he has managed regional pallid sturgeon recovery efforts since 2002.

“Before the river was highly engineered and managed, that spring pulse of water [from upstream snowmelt] usually cued sturgeon to make their migration run to the spawning grounds,” Steffensen says. “Now that the river is so regulated and managed, they don’t get that pulse anymore.”

The fish still make spawning runs. They just aren’t very successful. Dams block their migration, and mankind’s reshaping of the river has degraded remaining spawning habitats.

Seeking to reverse the species collapse, the government listed pallid sturgeon as a federal endangered species in 1990. A recovery plan went into effect soon after.

“Since their populations were so low and diminished,” Steffensen says, “it was decided that we need to supplement the population through capturing wild fish in the river, transporting them to a hatchery facility and spawning them, and then rearing their progeny up to a bigger size—so that when we stock them back in the river, they have a higher rate of survival.”

Starting in 1992, pallid sturgeon stocking began from local populations supplemented by fish from upstream (sourced from the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers near the Montana-North Dakota border). But it wasn’t until spring 2002 that Steffensen says Nebraska Game & Parks ramped up its pallid sturgeon stocking efforts. That lasted until scientists realized “that, genetically, fish in the upper basin are just slightly different than down in our reach of the river into the middle Mississippi River,” he says.

A 2007 federal moratorium on stocking upper basin fish in the lower Missouri followed. Suddenly, downstream recovery efforts faced heightened pressure to gather all the pallid sturgeon needed to stock lower stretches of the river from local fish.

“That’s when this whole thing developed of bringing in volunteers to maximize our efforts,” Steffensen says. “So we began fishing these local fish and shipping them to the area hatcheries so they could spawn them in their facilities and maintain our stocking program in this lower reach of the Missouri River.”

Game & Parks boats monitor pallid sturgeon in the Missouri nine months out of the year, but it is only during the 11 days of Broodstock that they will capture the fish to send to hatcheries. It is also only during this time when volunteers can get in on the action. Broodstock normally takes place in late April, but the 2018 dates were not confirmed when this March/April edition of Omaha Magazine went to press.

There’s a four-person volunteer limit per boat. And the slots fill up quick. Steffensen estimates that the weekend volunteering spots are usually snapped up within an hour or two of his initial call for volunteers via e-mail.

Boats from Nebraska Game & Parks

In 2017, they had 167 volunteers—many of whom worked two or three days. More than 700 individuals have volunteered with Broodstock since they began accepting volunteer participants in 2008.

“We go rain or shine,” Steffensen says. “Back in ’09, we had to cancel one day because we had a snowstorm come in. Otherwise we endure rain, wind, temperatures. After we set the gear one afternoon, we have to get it out of the water the next morning so we don’t harm any fish. We operate under endangered species handling protocol, and we are limited to having these trotlines in the water for only 24 hours.”

They operate four or five boats each day to check approximately 10 trotlines per boat. Each line, connected to a buoy in the river, has about 40 hooks baited with worms.

With four or five boats in the water each day, crews are running 17,600-22,000 hooks during the brief 11-day window of Broodstock. Steffensen says they select the program’s date range a month or two in advance to anticipate when pallid sturgeon will make their spring migration to spawn.

“It’s really a unique effort that we do here. You always hear about endangered species: Don’t approach them; don’t touch them; they are for observation only. But that’s birds and mammals, where you can look at them with spotting scope and binoculars. With fish, you have to pull them out of the water to tag, and you actually handle them. We get a lot of that message from volunteers—that this is awesome,” Steffensen says, adding that the stocking effort would not be possible at its current level without the outpouring of volunteer support.

Since 1992, Game & Parks has introduced approximately 177,000 hatchery-reared pallid sturgeon. More than 94,000 of those hatchery fish were introduced through the Broodstock program that began in 2008.

Although the fish remains listed as endangered at the state and federal level, Steffensen is cautiously optimistic: “Overall, our catch suggests that the wild fish who were naturally spawned and lived in the river their whole life appear stable.”

Due to high demand, the opportunity to participate in Broodstock is not advertised. Anyone wishing to volunteer can request to be included in the email notice by contacting fisheries biologist Kirk Steffensen at kirk.steffensen@nebraska.gov.

From left: Dave Crane and Tim Shew share a kiss with an endangered pallid sturgeon.

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Parkinson’s Disease

January 26, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The way Terry Currey looks at it, Parkinson’s disease is a battle of the mind versus the brain.

Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2009, Currey describes his brain as an antagonist that controls his body. The protagonist is his mind, which he applies with persistent determination and will power to overcome the malevolent part of his brain.

Currey knows that in the end, his brain will be the victor. “But it’s not whether you win or lose,” he says, “it’s how you play the game.”

Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease—Alzheimer’s disease is the first—and usually occurs in individuals after age 60. The disease typically advances over a period of many years and affects movement, muscle control, and balance. Symptoms include a tremor, slow movement, loss of balance, and stiffness of the limbs.

“When the disease reaches a moderate stage, the motor [skills] problems become more pronounced, medications may begin to lose their effectiveness, and non-motor symptoms begin to develop, such as swallowing issues, speech and sleep problems, low blood pressure, mood and memory issues,” says Dr. Danish Bhatti, neurologist and co-director of the Parkinson’s Disease Clinic at Nebraska Medicine.

Dr. John Bertoni, co-director of the Parkinson’s Clinic, is Currey’s physician. “The needs for Parkinson’s patients are very diverse and become more complex as the disease progresses.”

Early diagnosis is the key to beginning proper treatment and helping manage progression of the disease, Dr. Bhatti says. Most people with Parkinson’s can get significant control of their symptoms with medications and a combination of other therapies, including occupational therapy, speech therapy, nutrition counseling, support groups, and regular exercise.

“The benefits of exercise early on, and throughout the disease process, is significant,” he says. “People who are independent after 10 years are the ones who were very active early in the disease. The more active you are, the less likely you are to have severe symptoms.”

Currey has been fighting the disease with an arsenal of tools that include medications, exercise, diet, and mind games. He says exercise has been critical in helping him stay active and keeping his muscle memory in place. He regularly uses his treadmill or elliptical, lifts weights, and participates in other activities like fishing, camping, mowing the lawn, snowblowing during winter, reading, and writing. Each is an important element in staying in the battle, he says.

“Some days it’s not only hard to move, but to want to move,” he says. “You have to have a mission. You have to set your mind to whatever it is you want to accomplish and not let the enemy win.”

To help others with the battle, Currey recently wrote a book, titled Neural Combat: Strategies and Tactics for your War with Parkinson’s Disease, available on Amazon. There were several goals Currey says he wanted to achieve with his book, such as helping individuals newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s to overcome their fear of the disease; to explain what is happening to them medically; and to assist them in developing tools to cope with the symptoms.

“With Parkinson’s disease, you go through the stages of grief and denial, and finally resignation and acceptance,” Currey says. “It took me a while to accept it, but once I came to that realization, I decided that I’m in it to battle this to the end for as long as I have my cognitive abilities.”

Visit pdf.org for more infomation.

parkinsons

High on Jesus

October 12, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Getting high on Jesus in the Rocky Mountains, however, is always 100 percent legal.

The Front Range looms overhead as Dan and Dawne Broadfield sip their morning coffee. Towering at a height of 14,259 feet, the snow-capped Longs Peak is the highest point in the adjacent Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

Residing at an elevation of nearly 1.5 miles above sea level, the Broadfields live on the forested grounds of Covenant Heights. The year-round Christian camp is located nine miles south of Estes Park, on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, near the base of Longs Peak.

estespark6The parents are career missionaries and together have visited Haiti, Mexico, Canada, England, France, Belgium, and Holland, among others. As assistant director of facilities, Dan helps to maintain the 65-acre Covenant Heights, while Dawne home-schools their three children: 18-year-old Darby, 14-year-old Dakota, and 11-year-old Max.

Their days are filled with hiking, fishing, backpacking, paddleboarding, archery, and kayaking. They have unfettered access to high ropes, zip lines, and a climbing wall—perks of living at a wilderness retreat. The same activities draw campers from across the country.

If the weather is nice, Dan and Dawne say they might go six to eight hours without seeing their offspring, and that’s fine for both parents and frolicking children alike.

In summer, nighttime unveils an infinite heaven of twinkling stars, with the Milky Way shining down on three hammocks arranged in a triangular formation in the trees. Each hammock cradles a Broadfield child, peacefully sleeping.

estespark2

Once the weather turns chilly, they gather firewood for campfires. The winter season also brings snow-shoeing, ice hockey, and cross-country skiing.

Wildlife is an integral part of living at the campground, where animals also make their home. Coyotes, moose, and deer frequently wander through Covenant Heights. Herds of elk are common visitors; during the fall rut, the bulls’ high-pitched bugling will echo for miles.

“The other day, an elk walked through the middle of (the triangle of hammocks),” Dawne says. “Our youngest woke up and thought, ‘Uh, oh. This isn’t good.’ But the elk eventually moved along.”

estespark5The free-spirited mother of three does have one rule about sleeping outdoors. Her kids can’t have lipgloss, sunscreen, or other scented items in their pockets. Bears live in the neighborhood, and scented items or food will attract them. Dawne even brings her bird feeders inside at night so as not to attract unwelcome scavengers.

She loves life amongst the animals. In fact, her animal-watching pastime vaguely reminds her of childhood years spent in Omaha. “We went to the Henry Doorly Zoo about every two weeks,” says the one-time Omahan. Dawne’s father served in the Air Force at Offutt Air Force Base for three years, when she was in fifth through eighth grades.

Her adult life unfolded away from Omaha. Before relocating to Colorado in 2015, Dawne and Dan were living in San Antonio, Texas, where they ran an art gallery and online networking platform for artists called ArtLife.

“Here we are now in Estes Park because we felt like we ran out of space in San Antonio. We wanted to become more of a starving artists community,” says Dan. “We want to develop an artists community up here. I want to create a safe space for people to come and hone their skills. It’s the idea of not being in their normal circumstances.”

estespark4Surrounded by natural abundance, the family feels rich. Not so when it comes to the latest technological amenities. They have a satellite television, the only reliable phone is a landline, and mobile internet service is patchy from camp.

Dawne says “there’s a 20-minute window about twice a day” for internet access. An avid photographer, she posts almost daily on Instagram from her smartphone during those limited windows of online accessibility.

Her photo stream documents their neighbors, mostly the wildlife (@adeltadawne). “We have lots of moose that hang out,” she says. “The elk, the deer, the eagles, and then I sprinkle in family stuff.” If it is necessary to check something online, they head to a coffeeshop or the library in town. Dan and Dawne enjoy their wireless existence. “I kind of like the idea of being disconnected,” Dan says.

Christian wilderness retreats have a rich history on the Front Range near Covenant Heights. Even before Colorado was a state, missionaries were spreading the gospel across the landscape.

estespark3Summer encampments for the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) date back to the 1890s. The YMCA summer campsite from 1908 remains the site of the modern-day YMCA of the Rockies. Today, the organization hosts Christian gap-year programs for 18-to-24 year olds “seeking personal and spiritual growth while working in a seasonal job at Snow Mountain Ranch.”

On January 26, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Rocky Mountain National Park into existence, and the nationwide National Park Service came into being the following year (celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016).

Covenant Heights arrived on the scene in the early 1930s through the fellowship of the Covenant Young Peoples and Sunday School Conference of Colorado and Wyoming. The coalition of Rocky Mountain churches sought to give “a concerted effort to provide inspiration, Christian fellowship, and evangelism for the young people of the churches in Colorado and Wyoming,” according to its website. Covenant Heights’ current permanent campsite became operational in 1948.

Separate from the YMCA or Covenant Heights, the nonprofit Wind River Ministries also runs the ongoing Wind River Ranch, a “Christian Family Guest Ranch Resort”complete with dude ranch.

Regardless of one’s spiritual inclination, the sweeping mountain vistas are inspiring throughout the vicinity of Estes Park.

In the wake of Colorado’s legalization of marijuana, residents of Estes Park voted to block the opening of recreational and medicinal dispensaries within the limits of town and Larimer County. It was a strategic move to preserve the region’s wholesome reputation as a family destination. Meanwhile, federal marijuana laws reign supreme over Rocky Mountain National Park and other federally owned lands.

Getting high on Jesus in the Rocky Mountains, however, is always 100 percent legal.

Visit covenantheights.org for more information.

estespark1

Villa Springs

July 29, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Drive about three miles south of Springfield, Nebraska, and you’ll find Villa Springs on the north shore of the Platte River, a private neighborhood more or less enclosed by a ring of cottonwood trees. If you drive around the neighborhood, you’ll find all manner of houses in an eclectic mix of colors, styles, and designs.

Many of the houses do feature one thing in common: boats in the driveways.

That is because Villa Springs is a lake community, sitting on the banks of a sandpit lake.

“It’s about a 40-acre lake, good for skiing, swimming, fishing,” says Gary Partusch, 50, president of the Villa Springs Homeowners Association.

Villa-Springs1

Partusch, who is married with four kids and works for a dairy company in Omaha, has lived in the neighborhood since 2001. The property lots, ranging in size from about a half acre to two acres in size, are spread out, making Villa Springs unique for a lake community.

“It makes it very nice to be spread out [and] have room,” he says. “More yard to mow, more stuff like that.”

The average house in the neighborhood costs about $300,000-$500,000. There are 90 homeowners on the lake, Partusch says, and they are a mixed group. Some are older people who are retired and spend their winters in warmer climates, while others are younger.

“People are very friendly, very nice,” he says. “[You] take walks and boat rides and see people on the lake and talk. It’s a good living community.”

The neighborhood has an annual picnic as well as a Christmas party. There’s also a spring cleanup in which all the neighbors pitch in to help keep the lake beautiful. Many people enjoy fishing, and last year, the community held a fishing tournament. The lake contains a great deal of fish, including large-mouth bass, bluegill, walleye, and catfish.

“We stock it with fish,” Partusch says, most of which are catch-and-release. “We take pride in having a good fishing lake.”

One can also find a great many birds in the neighborhood—turkeys, ducks, bald eagles, and migrating pelicans. A few families of geese with new babies are making their home there currently. There’s also some deer and a beaver in the lake. 

I got three walnut trees,” Partusch says. “I see lots of squirrels.”

In many ways, though, Partusch says, Villa Springs is a regular sort of neighborhood.

“People have difference of opinions,” he says. “It’s hard to have 85…people, different families, agree on everything.

“I think that’s with any community.”

Like any other community, it has its share of garden-variety neighborly disputes; though, true to character, some of the neighborhood’s disputes revolve around how to make the best use of the lake.

“There’s a group of people who…couldn’t care less about fishing,” Partusch says. “And there’s a group of people who love to fish. And then there’s also people [who]…want to waterski or swim or tube or whatever. And there’s some other people that don’t even own a boat.”

The lake adds value to the community, and at the same time, each homeowner feels some personal ownership in regard to it. However, he says, the neighborhood mostly manages to accommodate everyone’s wishes.

“I think we have a pretty good balance.”

The most surprising thing about living here, Partusch says, is how quiet and peaceful it is.

“The quietness of being out of the city,” he says. “You can sit there on a Sunday afternoon and just sit out on the lake.”

Villa-Springs2

Indeed, that is the big impression one gets when driving down Cottonwood Lane, the blacktop road that circles the lake. There are people out and about on a Saturday afternoon, but generally the area is pretty quiet. More than anything, drivers want to appreciate just how nice everything looks. The neighborhood boasts a robust number of cottonwood, elm, and ash trees due to its proximity to the river, making the scene shine with green and gold, especially when the sun peaks out. There are several spots along the road where people can stop, look to one side, and catch a view of the Platte River through the tree line. On the other side is the lake, the wind rippling on its surface.

“I really think it’s a really great place to live,” Partusch says. “I really have no intentions of going anywhere.”

Visit villaspringslake.com for more information.

Jim Flowers

August 27, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Dapper Jim Flowers, with his trademark moustache and buttonhole flower, is a fixture in people’s lives after 31 years as an Omaha television meteorologist. This husband and father of two has invested himself in the community as a public speaker, Knights of Columbus volunteer, and churchgoer. He and his wife, Barb, are members of Mary Our Queen parish.

It all made the ugly rumors that surfaced about him after WOWT did not renew his contract last December more unsettling. With Flowers suddenly off the air and no official word from station management explaining his absence (due to contractual reasons), anonymous social media speculation filled the information void. The chatter was mostly innocuous, but some alleged Flowers had been caught in a 2012 FBI sting operation targeting a local massage parlor fronting for a prostitution ring. It’s not the image a public figure like Flowers can afford, especially when looking for a new job.

Flowers, who flatly denies involvement in any illegal activity, believes a parlor client used his name when procuring sexual services. Unfortunately, Flowers found his good name sullied when the sting broke.

“…in social media, people can say anything about anyone they please without identifying themselves or taking responsibility…just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s the truth.”

Despite the cloud, Flowers landed at KMTV. He debuted there June 3 as part of a long-term contract he reached with the station, thus making him perhaps the only on-camera talent to have worked at each of Omaha’s three major network affiliates.

The Ohio native and Penn State University grad came to Omaha in 1982 to work at KETV from a TV weathercaster post in South Carolina. After 10 years, he moved to WOWT. He was there 20 years, the last several as chief meteorologist.

He says he and his wife found Omaha to be “a great place to raise kids.” Even though their boys are now men, he says all the roots he and Barb put down here and all the relationships they built here make it a hard place to shake.

Barb and Jim relaxing at home.

Barb and Jim relaxing at home.

But in the wake of what happened over the winter, he seriously considered moving to another market.

With his exit from WOWT fueling the gossip mill, he posted Facebook and TVSpy responses that reflected his resolve to lay the tittle tattle to rest.

“…I have never been involved in a massage parlor prostitution investigation. I have not been arrested, questioned, or told by the authorities that I am a suspect [a statement confirmed by Omaha Magazine with Omaha Police Department public information officer Lt. Darci Tierney]…those lies have been very hurtful to me, my wife of 34 years, and our family…I appreciate the loyalty of the many fans who have continued to support me, and I want to assure them that there is nothing behind those rumors.”

He more extensively addressed the situation in June 3rd guest spots on the Todd-N-Tyler radio show and KM3’s own, The Morning Blend.

“Doing that interview with Todd-N-Tyler literally put an end to it,” he says.

But when the rumors were still fresh, they stung. “When this first happened, I was like my life has been an open book, people know me, who’s going to believe this stuff? Obviously, people do, and that was the surprising part of the whole thing. Some folks want to bring people down, for whatever reason. It’s the human psyche.”

“When this first happened, I was like my life has been an open book, people know me, who’s going to believe this stuff? Obviously, people do, and that was the surprising part of the whole thing.”

His initial reaction was to get mad.

“The first thing you feel is anger because you know you’re not a part of it. That’s what’s frustrating. It had an effect more on my wife and my family, especially my two boys. My two boys were angry…They wanted to find out who used my name, how the stuff got out there.”

His wife has had his back the whole way. She offered this statement about the rumors: “I knew it wasn’t true. It was hurtful to me and my family to think that people would believe those rumors about Jim. I would like to thank those that supported us with positive comments.”

Flowers, an outdoorsman who loves fishing, hunting, and chasing storms, isn’t the type to run scared, but there was little he could do about this.

He gained insight into how his name got dragged into the mud when he contacted authorities, none of whom could speak to the specific case, then active in the judicial system. However, they did lay out a likely scenario.

“I was told by the Omaha Police Department’s public information officer Lt. Darci Tierney that, in general, this is the way it works. The guys that go [to massage parlors] wind up on a list. They don’t use anything that will identify themselves. They don’t use credit cards, they don’t use checkbooks, and they don’t use their real names. She said, ‘Obviously, someone decided to use your name and guess what, now you’re a part of it.’ I said, ‘Is there anything I can do?’ and she said ‘no.’”

20130712_bs_5990

He says the local FBI office and U.S. Attorney Jan Sharp confirmed the same.

Unfortunately for Flowers, someone used his familiar name. It comes with the territory of being a
public figure.

“Our exposure to this kind thing is not unusual, but this form and how it took off seemed to have a life of its own,” he says. “The constraints that exist for print, television, and radio don’t exist for social media. There are no checks and balances out there. So if there’s a lesson, it’s that, in social media, people can say anything about anyone they please without identifying themselves or taking responsibility. But just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s the truth.”

He’s satisfied with how he’s managed the incident. “You take the high ground and have faith that things will work out. The night before I went on The Blend and Todd-N-Tyler, I told my wife, ‘I’m starting tomorrow [on KM3], and I feel really excited about it. There’s all these opportunities. But the one thing that’s still out there is this whole rumor thing. I don’t know where, I don’t when, and I don’t know how, but at some point in time this thing will be put to rest.”

He says he and Barb put their “very strong faith in God” that this bad dream would disappear. “I’ve had people compliment me and say you handled it professionally.”

KMTV General Manager Chris Sehring is pleased how it all worked out, too. “Jim’s a great guy, and we are thrilled to finally have him on our KMTV Weather Alert team.”

“You take the high ground and have faith that things will work out…I don’t know where, I don’t when, and I don’t know how, but at some point in time this thing will be put to rest.”

Though Sehring couldn’t comment on what steps the station took or on how much the incident played in its hiring decision, he did say, “Journal Broadcast Group is second to none in its commitment to integrity and the highest ethical standards. I still believe we live in a society where one is innocent until proven guilty…It’s truly a shame Jim and his family have had to endure these unsubstantiated rumors and malicious speculation. After all, it could happen to any of us.”

Both Sehring and Flowers are focused on making KM3, currently in last place in the ratings, number one. Flowers helped bring both KETV and WOWT to the top spot and feels confident he can work magic a third time.

“I’ve been down this road before. I know what it takes to win,” says Flowers. “Whoever wins weather in Omaha wins the ratings; that’s what it boils down to. You can ask every general manager, and they’ll tell you the same thing. It’s not only in Omaha; it’s in a lot of weather-sensitive markets. I didn’t decide that, the public did.”

He feels his experience and attention to detail set him apart from other weathercasters in this market.

So do his fishing skills. Once a competitive bass tournament champion, he takes his boat and fishing gear out these days purely for relaxation. With the rumors behind him, he’s forecasting nothing but clear skies and calm waters ahead.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.