VALENTINE, Neb. -- A Valentine man has won a national award for his work studying, protecting and managing the Niobrara National Scenic River. Travis Connot is a biologist and the Natural Resource Program Manager for the Niobrara River. Growing up in Valentine, Connot said the river holds a special place in his heart.

“My wife and I got married and went to Stair Step Falls. We floated the river for our little getaway,” Connot said.

The river is also part of Connot’s professional life. 

“Being able to protect this river and make it sustainable for the farmers, ranchers and recreation—everybody who utilizes this river,” Connot said.

This week Connot was surprised to receive a national award for his work. The River Management Society named him River Manager of the Year.

“This is a major big deal. It’s not a park service. It’s not a government thing. It is open to all private and public sectors,” Niobrara National Scenic River Superintendent Susan Cook said. 

“I’m actually really shocked that I won this award,” Connot said.

“One of the things he did was he went out on his own and found a grant for $264,000 to help us monitor the aquifer, so we know what the water levels are doing. This river is fed by groundwater,” Cook said. 

A national award for a local man trying to make a difference for not only those living in Nebraska today, but for generations to come.

“It’s important to me to be able to protect if for my kids, their kids and so forth,” Connot said.