The Dark Island Trail is currently an 8 mile public trail from Central City, NE to just south of Marquette, NE, with the goal of expanding southward to Aurora as funding allows. The Trail is what is considered a Rails to Trails project, meaning that abandoned railways are used to create the natural public space. The Platte PEER Group maintains the trail itself, and owns a portion of land 50 ft. wide on either side of the trail to be used by the public. This is common practice, and trails continue to develop along abandoned railways nationwide.
The Dark Island Trail is a public space. There is no fee for anyone to use the trail, although free-will donation boxes help to maintain the trail. The trail is frequented by hikers, bikers, Scouting groups, school groups and foundations who see this as a community asset for Merrick and Hamilton Counties. Users come from across the state to use the Dark Island Trail and often spend additional time in the area.
There is no building or visitor’s center, nor is there a fee to use the trail for any or educational purposes. The Trail is considered open from dawn to dusk. The Trail was developed with funding from grants and private donors and is maintained by a volunteer Board of Directors and one paid staff member.
Though seasonal, the Dark Island Trail offers an array of Educational Programs for both children and adults. The Merrick County Historical Society has placed 6 interpretive signs along the trail for informal education purposes that any user of the trail will encounter. In addition, the Merrick County Historical Society has done a yearly tour from Central City to the walking bridge with groups interested in the history of the Dark Island Trail and its adjacent properties. There is no registration or fee to participate in one of these History Tours.
In addition, the Merrick County Foundation has been not only a generous contributor to the Dark Island Trail, but they have been instrumental in the Education based offering along the trail for youth groups, schools, and other community groups.
Platte PEER Group works closely with the Prairie Plains Resource Institute in Hamilton Co. to provide additional Education programs along the Dark Island Trail. A free event, Winter Explore Days, takes place 3 times a year in rotating locations (between Bader Park, Sherman Ranch and the Dark Island Trail) and provides a family friendly, natural history lesson along with winter survival techniques. As with almost all of our events, this is a free educational event for local families.