NORFOLK, Neb. (KMTV) — Ever wonder how a town gets its name?
In Norfolk's case, German settlers from Wisconsin came upon the North Fork of the Elkhorn River in the 1860s. They called it Nor'fork, but postal workers misunderstood, and the city was incorporated as Norfolk.
Leaders are leaning into that history, and the river, as they shape the city's future. Revitalization continues downtown, and changes are coming soon to the riverfront.
"You can see it around us. What we're hoping to create is a buzz and an intangible sense that there's activity and energy and vibrancy," said Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning.
There's a mix of businesses downtown: 15 bars, a dozen or so clothing boutiques, and several restaurants which Mayor Moenning would put up against any in the state.
The Nebraska Chamber has lifted Norfolk as an example for other communities in the state. Mayor Moenning says they've turned what they don't have into an asset.
"Norfolk is in a unique position, just where we are. We're not on an interstate system. We're not terribly close to a metro area. And so, the community has always had to think a little bit differently and view things differently just to survive."
Mayor Moenning estimates about 60 percent of new businesses have been started by entrepreneurs with ties to the city, while the rest are newcomers.
Coming soon: A new attraction a few blocks from downtown.
In 2016, discussions began about making changes to the North Fork. Construction will begin in Spring 2022 on the North Fork Riverfront Redevelopment Project, to be known as The Fork.
"In fact, people are talking about building, as a piece of art, large fork. The tallest fork in the world," an amused Mayor Moenning said.
The project includes removing remnants of an old dam site and adding eight structures along a 1,800-foot stretch of the Elkhorn River to create a recreational experience for kayakers and tubers.
Investments have come from Nebraska Natural Resources District, the state of Nebraska, Norfolk's city parks funds and private foundations. Between the riverfront and downtown, improvements total nearly $35 million.
"The strategy here has been, make some public improvements and investments, make things look and feel a little bit nicer and cleaner and more welcoming, and the private sector has responded very well to that." Mayor Moenning continued, "We have really again put a lot of focus on quality of life and building a community where people want to be and can achieve a sense of belonging and connectedness."
A 2019 study about the impact of The Fork showed visitors could spend as much as $2 million annually in Norfolk.
To learn about completed and current projects and stay up-to-date on progress at The Fork, visit https://norfolkne.gov/ .