A sanctuary for wildlife and people: Committed to Conservation. Unique Accommodations. Incredible Opportunities.

The Hutton Niobrara Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary is truly a sanctuary for wildlife and people alike. The ecologically diverse 5,000-acre sanctuary is devoted to prairie, woodland, wetland and aquatic wildlife and the habitats they rely on for existence. Like former landowners Harold and Lucille Hutton, we share the vision that wildlife, conservation and sustainable ranch management should be interconnected, and we also believe that nature-based tourism opportunities can play a vital role in efforts toward this vision. Because of this, the Sanctuary provides two different accommodation options as well as opportunities for a range of outdoor activities on and around the Sanctuary that help support our efforts. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, donations are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by the IRS, and the contributions from our guests go directly to support the Sanctuary and our conservation efforts.

Accommodations and Experiences

The Sanctuary offers two different self-catering homes, each option suited for couples, families or groups. The first option is the Hutton House, a sophisticated two-story ranch house, perfect for those seeking modern accommodations in a natural setting, with easy access to the outdoors. Second, the nearby Lazy Easy Ranch House provides comfortable simplicity with a perfect, shady setting ideal for active outdoor families or groups, or those just seeking a relaxing country retreat. Both houses give guests the chance to explore the Sanctuary, to hike on our trails, to bike or ski down country lanes, to horseback ride through the prairie, to witness unforgettable night skies, and to appreciate a spectrum of wildlife and biodiversity. This expansive and unique land is a pleasant place at every time of day and in every changing season. We hope you visit soon and be a part of our effort for conservation along the spectacularly scenic Niobrara River in Nebraska.

Stewardship and Ownership

Shared Stewardship: The Niobrara Sanctuary and the Great Plains Conservation Partnership Program of Audubon of Kansas

As expressed by a headline on the sanctuary in the Omaha World Herald January 6, 2006, this “LAND IS A GIFT TO US ALL.” The article by Paul Hammel went on to state that, “As a rancher, Hutton insisted on leaving some grass behind for the curlews, sharp-tailed grouse and other birds that call the prairie home.”

Stewardship of the Hutton Niobrara Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary is part of the Great Plains Conservation Partnership Program of Audubon of Kansas, working in collaboration with others dedicated to conservation of grassland birds and other wildlife, protection of the unique Niobrara River Valley and native prairie landscapes. The 5,000-acre Hutton Ranch was a gift to Audubon of Kansas, Inc. in 2002 by the late Lucille Hutton, in consideration of the wishes of Harold Hutton, her late husband, who wanted the property managed as a wildlife sanctuary.

Harold Hutton worked closely with Ron Klataske, West Central Regional Vice President of the National Audubon Society, to win Congressional designation of the Niobrara River as a national scenic river; and separately in pursuit of organizations that would accept the property as the envisioned wildlife sanctuary, along with a number of restrictions designed to ensure that none of the property would ever be sold and high standards of management would be employed.  Many organizations, however, did not want to accept property with strings attached.  Following Harold’s death, Lucille requested that Audubon of Kansas (AOK) consider the responsibility of accepting title and stewardship responsibility.  AOK’s Board of Trustees included members from Nebraska, as well as Kansas and other states, and the board accepted.  Executive Director, Ron Klataske, was in a position to articulate the importance of the property. Although AOK is based in Kansas, the organization works throughout the Great Plains and builds on Ron’s four decades of conservation efforts across the region. As an independent conservation organization, Audubon of Kansas is not administered or funded by the National Audubon Society.

For AOK, the banner of “Taking Pride in Prairie” is a fundamental foundation for many conservation, sanctuary and educational initiatives, as reflected in the organization’s mission statement:

The mission of Audubon of Kansas includes promoting the enjoyment, understanding, protection, and restoration of our natural ecosystems. We seek to establish a culture of conservation and an environmental ethic.

A number of notable stewardship successes at the Niobrara Sanctuary have been achieved as a result of the leadership involvement and/or contributions of several Trustees living in Nebraska.  As a reflection of their time, talent and resources, two management units devoted to special wildlife habitat improvements are named in honor of Harold W. Andersen of Omaha and Charles Wright of Lincoln.  A hiking/horseback trail along and overlooking the Niobrara River will be named in honor of the dedication of Wesley Sandall, another Trustee, when the trail system is completed in the spring of 2011.  Wes Sandall served as chairman of the Save the Niobrara River Association in the 1970s and 1980s, an organization which–with his leadership and that of other ranch families, statewide supporters and nationwide partners–was instrumental in stopping the Nordon Dam/O’Neill Reclamation Project which would have dammed the Niobrara and diverted most of the flows from the river at a location 30 miles upstream.

Other Trustees from Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois and nearby South Dakota–including several of whom are involved in ranching or farming–have helped to provide management oversight and guidance for continued improvements.  Following a decision to purchase the nearby 160-acre Lazy Easy Ranch with a ranch house that serves as the Lazy Easy Guesthouse, Trustees and their spouses contributed most of the furniture and kitchen appliances needed to make it comfortable and inviting.  Other Trustees and friends have made contributions earmarked for purchase of all new bedroom and living room furniture for the Sanctuary’s guesthouses.

It is hoped that a “Friends of the Niobrara Sanctuary” group will be established to further refine improvements, expand educational outreach and visitation, and  serve as volunteers and interpretive docents.

AOK honored a five-year grazing lease prior to fully implementing range improvement projects and management changes in 2009. Following years of intensive grazing, most of the grassland (pasture) units were ungrazed in 2009 and 2010 to allow desirable native grasses and forbs to regenerate, and to create additional nesting and brood cover for prairie grouse and other grassland birds.

Several agencies have also been greatly helpful in establishment of wildlife habitat, conservation improvements for rangelands, control of cedar tree encroachment on native grasslands, and measures to protect water quality within the two major spring-fed streams.  Programs including the Environmental Quality Incentive Program administered by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Conservation Reserve Program administered by the Farm Services Agency have become a vital part of Sanctuary stewardship improvements. These management practices and conservation programs are among the opportunities available to other ranch and farm landowners. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the Forest Service have also provided habitat evaluations, technical support and other assistance.

Audubon of Kansas has partnered with the National Audubon Society to make major improvements to the Hutton House, which serves as one of the two guesthouses, as well as improvements to the adjacent Visitors Gallery.  The Huttons made a generous gift to the National Audubon Society earmarked for improvements that will benefit the sanctuary.

In addition to these partnerships, it is hoped that the sanctuary will help to build appreciation and protection of the Niobrara River, a modest complement to the cooperative efforts of the Niobrara Council and the National Park Service, as well as a goal of other entities, including of “Friends of the Niobrara,” a statewide organization.

To visit AOK’s website, go to www.audubonofkansas.org

Location and Directions

The Niobrara Sanctuary is located in the Sandhills of northern Nebraska, along the the Niobrara River–a national scenic river and unit of the National Park System. Nearby small towns include Bassett and Newport. The Google map below provides information and directions to the Sanctuary and both guesthouses, as well as suggested routes from the these two towns. Below, you will also find written directions to the guesthouses from Bassett and Newport.

About the Map:
The green marker represents a general point of reference inside the Sanctuary. Click on the green marker for a link to an aerial map of the property and property boundaries. We are working to update our maps, as well as to add the Sanctuary boundaries to the Google map below.
The blue markers represent the Hutton House (west) and the Lazy Easy Ranch House (east). Click on either blue marker for links to the guesthouses’ webpages.
The red pins represent two nearby small towns, Bassett (west) and Newport (east). Click on either red pin for information about the towns, as well as a link for direction from your point of departure. Additional directions from each town to the guesthouses are provided below.
For a larger view of the map, a link is provided below the bottom left hand corner of the map.

For those unfamiliar with using Google maps, you can use the navigational arrows in the upper left hand corner to move directions. With your mouse, you can also click, hold and drag to move though the map. The + and – signs can be used to zoom in and out.

View Hutton Niobrara Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary in a larger map

Bassett to Guesthouses:

15 mi – about 25 mins to Lazy Easy
15.3 mi – about 25 mins to Hutton House

From the intersection of Highway 20 and Highway 7 in Bassett, travel north through the downtown area on Highway 7 and continue for a total of five miles. At that intersection Highway 7 turns left (west); however, one must turn right (to the east) to go to the Niobrara Sanctuary. Continue east on the gravel road for a distance of five miles, it then “jogs” a quarter mile to the north (left) and then back (right) to the east again for an additional mile. At that point (now six miles east of Highway 7) the maintained county road turns to the (left) north. Proceed north for approximately three miles (2 3/4 miles more specifically). At that point there is an intersection.
(1) To go to the Hutton Guesthouse, continue north for an additional one
and a quarter miles. The Hutton Guesthouse is on the left approximately 100 yards from the county road.
(2) To go to the Lazy Easy Guesthouse from the same intersection noted, turn right and proceed east for one mile. The Lazy Easy Guesthouse is just 20 yards off the road on the left–north side of the county road.

Newport to Guesthouses:

11 mi – about 15 mins to Lazy Easy
13.3 mi – about 20 mins to Hutton House

From the intersection of Highway 20 and Highway 137 in Newport, travel north on Highway 137 for seven miles. Immediately before highway mile marker number “7”, turn left (west) at the intersection and travel four miles to the Lazy Easy Guesthouse. Near this intersection, there is also a sign on the west side of Highway 137 providing directions to the Willowdale Cementary, located along the county road en route to the Lazy Easy Guesthouse. The Lazy Easy Guesthouse is just 20 yards off the road on the right—the north side of the county road. For persons going to the Hutton Guesthouse, continue west an additional mile. At the country road intersection turn right (north) and proceed north for a distance of one and a quarter miles. The Hutton Guesthouse is on the left approximately 100 yards from the county road.

Aerial Map

This map of the 5,000-acre Niobrara Sanctuary provides a general reference of the property’s boundaries, as well as an aerial view of diverse habitats on the Sanctuary, including prairie, wetlands, woodlands, canyons, streams and the Niobrara River. Updated maps will be provided soon. Click on image for larger view.