Former Nebraska Farmer editor Don McCabe was among three honorees this year inducted into the Nebraska Natural Resources Districts Hall of Fame.
Along with McCabe, who enters the Hall of Fame as a longtime NRD supporter and advocate, are former South Platte NRD board member Keith Rexroth, of Sidney, Neb., and Ron Milner of Imperial, Neb., who served as the first general manager of the Upper Republican NRD and is awarded the honor posthumously.
The honorees were announced at a press conference at the Conservation Building at Husker Harvest Days in mid-September, and the awards were handed out at the annual Nebraska Association of Natural Resources Districts convention held recently in Kearney.
McCabe, who grew up on a farm near Newcastle, Neb., joined the staff of Nebraska Farmer in 1977. But his long connection with NRDs began shortly after he completed his service in the U.S. Navy, when he worked as a University of Nebraska journalism intern at the Norfolk Daily News.
During that stint in the summer of 1975, McCabe learned about the conservation projects being conducted by the Lower Elkhorn NRD. Over the course of 37 years at Nebraska Farmer, including 15 years serving as editor, McCabe wrote about conservation efforts in every corner of the state’s NRD system.
In his early days on staff at Nebraska Farmer, McCabe covered some of the original actions taken along the Upper Republican NRD as they became the first NRD in the state to establish metering and groundwater-use reporting. Nominated by Central Platte NRD for the award, McCabe covered CPNRD’s groundbreaking efforts to curb groundwater nitrates within the district.
“I was always impressed by the NRDs and the people working there,” McCabe says. “I enjoyed interviewing NRD managers and staff, and I particularly enjoyed jumping in a pickup with them to look over their projects and see their efforts up close,” he explains. “Throughout my career, I enjoyed working with Nebraska NRDs and informing Nebraska Farmer magazine readers about the many types of NRD projects and the districts’ wise management of the state’s natural resources. I never understood why other states didn’t adopt a similar system.”
About the same time McCabe began covering NRD projects for Nebraska Farmer, Milner was working as the first general manager of the Upper Republican NRD from the beginning of the entire system in 1972 until 1997. Milner’s wife, Monna, knew that if her husband were alive today, he would have been excited and grateful to accept induction into the NRD Hall of Fame. “I know he was very proud of the work he accomplished,” she says. “I’m very honored, and he would be, too. It’s really something.”
Milner helped pass the Groundwater Management Act in 1976 and guided the Upper Republican NRD as it became the first NRD to adopt an order requiring metering and groundwater-use reporting in 1978.
Initially, required metering was strongly opposed, but Milner proceeded with the understanding that it was the right decision to make and would be beneficial to groundwater conservation in the long run. He also created the first Groundwater Management Area in Nebraska and enacted well spacing rules.
Rexroth spent 24 years as a member of the SPNRD board of directors and 16 of those years as chairman. He was appointed by the governor as an adviser for the Three-State Cooperative Agreement on the Platte River. He developed an Integrated Management Plan to protect water resources within the SPNRD and has been awarded numerous accolades throughout his career on the board of directors.
“With the amount of talent and commitment shown from past and current NRD directors, it’s very humbling to have acknowledgement, let alone this type of recognition,” Rexroth says. “The important mission is how we manage Nebraska’s resources for future generations. The input and ongoing hard work from the SPNRD operators and communities with their water management efforts is one of the things I’m most proud of.”
You can learn more about the Nebraska NRD Hall of Fame at nrdnet.org.