DescriptionGrand Island, named for the large isle in the Platte River, was a landmark used by the early French traders in the 1700s. In the late 1850s three Iowa businessmen saw the potential of a town near the Platte Valley's “Grand Island” and speculated that the railroad would soon follow. The venture went bankrupt but the 36 settlers hired to start the new town stayed and in 1866, the Union Pacific Railroad came through Hall County and Grand Island Station was founded. By 1872 the city was incorporated and evolved into a major railroad, business, agricultural and industrial center.
From the beginning, Hall County has been a major corridor for the movement of people and commerce across the heartland. The Mormon Pioneer Trail, the Nebraska City Cutoff Trail, the Oregon Trail, the Ox Bow Trail and the Pony Express Trail all passed through Hall County in or near present-day Grand Island. The 2.4-acre Townsley-Murdock Immigrant Trail Site, at Alda and Guenther roads, contains the region's last-known wagon wheel ruts known as swales.
A guiding figure in the town's development was William Stolley, a German immigrant who took up the first claim in Hall County in 1857. A fervent advocate of foresting bare prairie land, Stolley planted groves of more than 50 varieties of trees, many of which can still be seen in Stolley Park.
For those heading west, Grand Island lies at the eastern terminus of scenic SR 2—nicknamed the Sandhills Journey Byway—which runs two-thirds of the length of Nebraska. Curving northwest past Nebraska National Forest, the route then heads west to Alliance.
For 6 weeks in March and April, 80 percent of the world's sandhill cranes and some 250 other species of waterfowl crowd an 80-mile stretch of the Platte River between Grand Island and Kearney. The Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center, just off I-80 exit 305 west of Grand Island in Wood River near Alda, is a good viewing location. Guided migration viewing tours are available during the peak migration in March; phone (308) 382-1820.
There's something for everybody at the Nebraska State Fair, from a midway with more than 30 rides including thrill rides and games of chance; concerts; parades and street performers; agricultural displays and exhibits; and, of course, cotton candy, caramel apples, snow cones and corn dogs. The 11-day event is held late August through early September at the Nebraska State Fairgrounds at Fonner Park; phone (308) 382-1620 for information.
Outdoor recreation can be found at Island Oasis Water Park where visitors can cool off in a wave pool, on several waterslides, or in the spraying fountains or wading pools; phone (308) 385-5381. Water sports also are the highlight at Mormon Island State Recreation Area.
Thoroughbred racing takes place at Fonner Park, 700 E. Stolley Park Rd., from mid-February to early May. Simulcast racing is available year-round; phone (308) 382-4515. Mid-Nebraska Speedway, 7 miles south of US 34 on US 281 in Doniphan, presents weekly stock car races late April through September; phone (402) 845-2988.
Note: Policies concerning admittance of children to pari-mutuel betting facilities vary. Phone for information.
Visitor InfoGrand Island Convention and Visitors Bureau 2424 S. Locust St. GRAND ISLAND, NE 68801. Phone:(308)382-4400 or (800)658-3178
Things to SeeStuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer