6 to see in Sterling, Colo. It`s a good time to be a Sterlingite. The

6 to see in Sterling, Colo.
It’s a good time to be a Sterlingite. The cooperation of many has ignited the revitalization of
Sterling’s downtown, the abundance of natural resources has energized an economic surge for the area,
and the fickleness of Mother Nature ensures a variety of seasonal weather for all sorts of activities. So
why not visit this hub of northeast Colorado? With 15,000 people, this city in the northeast corner of the
state is two hours from any traffic jam and offers local
culture with a good dose of old-fashioned ingenuity in
an urban setting. And did we mention Sterling boasts
331 clear, sunny days a year?
Recording the greatest migration of people our
country has ever experienced, this museum presents
the history of the Overland Trail – the famous and, at its
peak, the most heavily traveled highway in the country
that led to the goldfields of California and later in
Colorado. The original museum building is a replica of
an old fort. Wings have been added to the main building; the first in 1965, followed by an extensive
addition in 1988 and the Dave Hamil/REA Building in 2002. In addition to the main museum, 14 buildings
have been added to the grounds including an 1891 one-room school house, a country church, a general
store, a 1915 stone block house, a 1910 barn and the newest addition, the High Plains Education Center,
added in 2011. Visitors will enjoy a stroll back to a simpler time as they walk through the shady
courtyard and enjoy the ambiance of the turn-of-the-century village. And don’t forget to check out the
Sterling has its share of very talented local artists. Perhaps the most famous of them is Bradford
Rhea. While people all over the world now own Rhea’s work, he began his sculpting career here on the
Colorado high plains in the 1980s when he gave life to dying tree trunks throughout the community.
Nine of the tree sculptures (some of which have been replicated in bronze) are available for viewing via
a self-directed tour, starting with “Metamorphosis” at the Sterling Visitors Center. In 1993, Rhea was
commissioned by the United States Department of State to create a walking stick for then President Bill
Clinton to present to Pope John Paul II upon his visit to the U.S. that year. In seven days, Rhea created a
staff carved from the roots of a honey locust tree. The artist continues to create masterpieces from his
studio in nearby Merino, including one from a 30,000 lb. block of Colorado Yule marble.
Park your car, take a walk downtown and imagine Sterling’s early majesty as Queen City on the
Plains. Main Street is now a mix of grand historical buildings and vibrant shops for myriad tastes. Start
with the stately and historically preserved Logan County Courthouse and enjoy the paintings of early life
by local artist Eugene Carara and framed original linen blueprints by architect
John J. Huddart which adorn the walls. Across the street you can see the old
Andrew Carnegie Library which was restored and remodeled as a bed and
breakfast and is now a private residence. Just to the north is the First
Presbyterian Church, built in 1918 and still in use with an unaltered exterior
and original stained glass windows. Stroll a couple blocks to check out the
restored Union Pacific Depot, now home to the Logan County Chamber of
Commerce, which has seen visits by Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover
(who was noted to have a hole in his shoe), and Thomas Dewey. Browse the
variety of specialty shops and antique stores before enjoying a break at the
Old Town Bistro (former Bill’s Motors building built in 1926 with a touch of Spanish colonial style).
For a free art fix, visit the galleries at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling. Not only is the twoyear educational institution one of the best in the nation, it’s also chock full of works by local and guest
artists. The Peter L. Youngers Fine Arts Gallery hosts several notable exhibits each year, including the
Facility Exhibit in December and the NJC Student Exhibit at the end of the spring semester. Tennant Art
Gallery in the Zane Hays Student Center features an impressive collection of western art, and the E.S.
French Lounge is home to the William Sanderson Collection. William Sanderson taught for many years at
the University of Denver and was an artist-in-residence at NJC during the ‘70s.
Get off the beaten path and get on the nature trail! This .6 mile trail in Sterling’s Pioneer Park
traverses through trees and brush and over hill and dale. Grab your camera and take a quiet hike. Listen
to the many birds and keep an eye out for some of the wildlife residing there. You just might see
woodpeckers, falcons, finches, geese, jack rabbits, squirrels and maybe even a deer or two. While you’re
there, continue your jaunt around the .75 mile concrete path that weaves through the park. More great
places to walk and relax in Sterling include Columbine Park Trail (.69 mile), Wisdom Park Trail (.29 mile)
and the Overland Trail Recreation Area (l6 mile). The multi-use trails are open
to walkers, joggers, skaters and bicyclists of all ages and abilities. Dogs are
welcome too; they must be on a leash at all times in all parks except at the
Overland Trail Recreation Area. Dogs are also allowed to go swimming in the
pond there, but humans must remain on the shoreline. Fishing is optional!
(Free kids fishing poles are available for loan at the Tourist Information
While not technically in Sterling, the town of Merino is close enough
to be included in the list of local “must see” places. Located just 15 miles
southwest of Sterling, this interesting burg of under 300 people is not only the home of Sculptor
Bradford Rhea (see story above) and the former home of legendary radio and television host Ralph
Edwards, it is also the locale for Wisdom Rides which for over four decades has specialized in
manufacturing portable amusement rides such as Dragon Wagon, Alien Abduction (Gravitron-Starship),
Sizzler, and Tornado. But, this small town’s pièce de résistance is the block-long, downtown mural
painted to resemble original Merino businesses, with other bits of community history worked in. After
several dilapidated buildings had been demolished, aluminum store fronts were made and painted
according to a model created by Rhea. The result is a colorful row of clever depictions of Merino’s past.
A life-like rendition of Wisdom Rides’ founder, the late Jerry Wisdom, stands in one of the painted
doorways, waving to passers-by. Merino’s characteristics are worth the short drive, and don’t miss the
great herd of American bison grazing at the McEndaffer Cattle Company stockyard along the way!