5 Towns Under 500

Though there are hundreds of tiny towns to fit this bill, we narrowed our list down to 5 fabulous communities that each offer up their own unique tastes of small-town life. One thing's for sure: it's never as dull as you might expect.

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Springview (pop. 293) - Kaya Paha County

AS ONE OF the breeziest places on the Nebraska prairie, things are always moving in Springview. (Photo by Associated Press) Springview was on the front lines during this summer’s raging battle against windblown blazes that ravaged the Niobrara River Valley. The town was soon filled with firefighters and spirited survivors.

That persistent breeze was put to work at Nebraska’s first wind farm. Though dwarfed today by wind farms with dozens of turbines, Springview made news when two wind turbines went up west of town in 1998 along Highway 12. Soon people were flocking to Springview to see the structures. Springview residents embraced the mini-fame, and this is reflected in the town’s annual Turbine Days celebration, its Turbine Mart convenience store and on Main Street at George’s Windmill Cafe.

One afternoon as we breezed through the area, we noticed that Springview’s twin towers of pride were gone. The clerk at Turbine Mart had this well-practiced explanation: “The turbines were sold to a Florida company, but Springview would get two more. Someday.”

Even without turbines, Turbine Days continued, and for four years Turbine Mart fielded that same question like a windblown set of blades. In 2011, two turbines did blow back into Springview, and this time the community north of the Niobrara River Valley made history and the news, again. In a towering display of state pride and in-state Nebraska economic cooperation, Springview’s new turbines, which were made by Katana Summit in Columbus, were the first turbines built in Nebraska to be used in a Nebraska wind farm.

Springview’s spirit of cooperation can be traced to its beginnings when land from four families was used for the town site, not far from the turbines and near the bubbling spring for which the community is named. Following the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, fearful residents united and turned the fledgling county’s courthouse into a fortress when they feared that American Indians from across the Keya Paha River were preparing to attack. The attack never came, but it wouldn’t be the last time Springview’s citizenry banded together against a foe – imagined or real. Last summer the threat was real.

(Photo by Associated Press) Springview was on the front lines during this summer’s raging battle against windblown blazes that ravaged the Niobrara River Valley. The town was soon filled with firefighters and spirited survivors.Windblown wildfires engulfed the Niobrara River Valley during the tinder-dry summer of 2012. Approximately 170 departments sent firefighters to the Niobrara Valley, and Springview was a local hub of emergency coordination against the blaze. Out of all of the fires that raged across the Western United States in 2012, this fire was for a time the nation’s top priority. The Keya Paha County Fairgrounds lost buildings, and much of the community of Norden burned. Even Turbine Days was postponed. Yet Mother Nature had aroused a community spirit.

“The fires impacted each and every person in this county,” said Amy Johnson, editor of the Springview Herald. As the buildings burned, fortitude rose, she said. If people were physically able to help, they would. “Our community is filled with fighters and survivors,” she said. One of them was volunteer firefighter Mike Turek, who lost his home, then went on fighting to help others save their homes.

Johnson left Springview after she graduated from Springview High, then returned in 2011 after 17 years away. She sees many changes in her hometown community since she left. School sports programs at Bassett and Springview have joined. The Niobrara has been designated as a National Scenic River. Outfitters and bed and breakfasts have opened for tourists. A foundation and a revitalization committee are working on marketing, job creation, housing, long-term care for the elderly and other projects.

She came back with her husband, Erik, seeking the small-town life for their 2-year-old son, Drake.

“Springview is a strong and proud community to raise children in. Here you not only teach good work ethics and values – you live them,” Johnson said. “Among the long work days you can also find the serenity of a slower pace of life that allows you to appreciate family and good neighbors."

(This story originally appeared in the November/December 2012 issue of Nebraska Life Magazine)

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