Town Story: Long Pine
Pining for 'Hidden Paradise'? Long Pine has got you covered. Tucked away between crystal-clear creeks and verdant pine forests, this hidden gem offers up a refreshing slice of small-town Americana.
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IN LONG PINE, businesses cater to full-time residents as well as a mixture of those inner tube floaters and other adventurous summertime visitors. Some have been coming for years, and there’s the usual rotation of new tourists stumbling upon Hidden Paradise for the first time. Jim Carley is crossing the street when a passerby stops to shoot the breeze in front of Anderson Market, a Long Pine fixture for 85 years. Carley hasn’t been here quite that long but it seems that everyone here knows him.
When 17 acres of prime creek-side real estate came up for sale across the highway, Jim Carley dreamed of moving from Texas to build a resort.
He persuaded his wife, Nancy, to buy into his vision of Pine Valley Resort, but convincing the bankers was another matter.
“They wouldn’t give us a dime. They thought we were crazy,” Carley said. “I think they were right.”
The Carleys found help to achieve their crazy dream with $5,000 here and $7,000 there from friends, all on handshakes.
They built a miniature golf course, pavilion and seven cabins surrounded by peace and quiet and the clear, cool waters of the creek.
After living the dream for a quarter century, Stan and Cynthia Smidt of Kearney made the Carleys an offer they couldn’t refuse and purchased the resort. “This seemed like a natural fit for us,” Cynthia said, with her golden lab, Sophie, by her side.
The Carleys have bought a house in town, and Nancy travels northern Nebraska for Health and Human Services working on behalf of children.
“Jim would like to fish more,” Nancy said of her officially “retired” husband, but he still manages several properties in Hidden Paradise and Long Pine.
With a knowing smile that could convince anyone he’s got it all figured out, and with one arm wrapped around Nancy, Carley let us in on a secret: “Even a long, hard day’s work in Hidden Paradise is better than working a dream job anywhere else.”
For more than a century, people have crammed into this creek bottom for summer rest and relaxation. After constant requests from people wanting to camp and fish on his land, in the 1920s, John Kurtz developed a campground with cabins named The Pines on a shady hillside near the hydroelectric dam.
Jo and Lynn Wilson own The Pines today. Lynn remembers fishing at the dam as a child. A warm spell and a winter’s worth of melting snow combined with a big spring rain doomed the structure. The dam went out in 1961 and the lake went with it.
Concrete shards from the dam remain like fossils in a bend of the creek near The Pines. The dam’s brick pump house survived the washout, and after being rented as a cabin for several years, is now a private residence.
Long before the dam’s failure, young Tom Galleher was learning to play polka on his trumpet by listening to WNAX.
Music and Hidden Paradise have been part of the Bassett native’s life for most of his 92 years. “When those bands started playing, boy, I couldn’t get ready fast enough,” Galleher recalled.
He remembers well the time he filled in for a missing saxophonist at the pavilion. “I went from trumpet to sax in minutes,” Galleher said.
He also remembers the 1995 deluge that destroyed the only two bridges crossing into Galleher’s paradise. Now, what may be the only drawbridges in Nebraska span a bend over Long Pine Creek in front of his shaded cabin. “When the creek gets too high, I raise them,” Galleher said. “This place is just like I want it now, perfect.”
One of Galleher’s neighbors, Chris Ross, calls Hidden Paradise the “sweet spot of Nebraska.” When the seed company salesman isn’t working, casting flies or delivering school supplies to impoverished Mayan children on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula as he has for the last 29 years, he’s out in the woods hunting for morel mushrooms.
He finds them near his home at Plattsmouth, fries them up in real butter and plants them on the bar at Long Pine’s Sandhill’s Lounge for the whole town to enjoy. After our Hidden Paradise tour, Ross gave us a seat at his campfire and a fresh-grilled steak smothered with those ’shrooms.
His 1922 dwelling is a rustic man cave with rusted advertising signs and a rack of well-used fishing poles on one wall, and a mounted 5 ¾-pound trophy brown that was estimated to be 25 years old when Ross landed it.
Schools of trout, the lazy creek and an occasional inner tuber drift by on tranquil waters as we finish off our sirloins and cocktails on Ross’ deck.
He stokes the fire with satisfaction as long shadows and a pleasant evening chill settle into the canyon. As the flames flicker, Ross is warm in knowing that his Nebraska paradise is within easy reach for all to find.
(This story originally appeared in the July/August 2013 issue of Nebraska Life Magazine)