Pioneers Park Nature Center

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Pioneers Park Nature Center, established in 1963, is a 668-acre (2.70 km2) nature preserve located at the intersections of South Coddington and West Van Dorn Streets in Lincoln, Nebraska and is operated by the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department.[1]


Bison grazing at Pioneers Park Nature Center.

The Nature Center is located in the southwest corner of Pioneers Park. The 668-acre (2.70 km2) sanctuary includes sections on two sides of Haines Branch Creek. There are eight total miles of trails, several ponds, two interpretive buildings and regular activities throughout the year. The Chet Ager Building, contains a variety of exhibits including live animals, a bee skep, and a large herb garden next to the building.[2]

The newest addition to the center is The Prairie Building with prairie and live animal displays and a meeting auditorium. The building includes some straw bale construction, a green roof, and other sustainable building practices and is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certified. There are four miles (6 km) of trails through native Nebraska prairie grasses, woodlands and wetlands. A herd of bison, along with elk, white-tailed deer, turkey vultures, and owls are exhibited in their natural Nebraska habitat along the nature center trails.[3]

The center is open year round and it offers many activities including school program, preschool programs, scout badge work, nature day camps, night hikes and many special events.


In the 1930s, three ponds were dredged in the area to encourage waterfowl to visit the land.[4] In 1963, 40 acres roughly encompassing these ponds were dedicated as the Chet Ager Bird and Wildlife Nature Study Sanctuary.[4] The following year, the Chet Ager building was completed at the edge of one of ponds.[4]

City property that had previously been farmed was acquired by the sanctuary, adding sixteen acres along the Haines Branch Creek in 1975.[4] This land was connected to the original lands of the Chet Ager Bird and Wildlife Study Sanctuary by a suspension bridge over the creek.[4]

In 1984, planning for the sanctuary began to focus on restoring and preserving native ecosystems and displaying native wildlife within the sanctuary.[4] Previously, the sanctuary had adjoined a drive-through zoo featuring exotic animals where the bison, deer, elk, and raptors are now housed.[4] Beginning in 1985, the 80 acres on which the zoo was built were acquired by the Chet Ager facility. The exotic animals were sold or traded to zoos and replaced with native wildlife such as foxes, deer, turkeys, bison, and elk.[4]

The Prairie Building, surrounded by restored tallgrass prairie known as the Hands-on Prairie, was constructed in several phases throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.[4] In 1996, the Robert Powell family donated 56 acres to the Nature Center and the land was named Verley Prairie in honor of Robert Powell's uncle, Ben Verley.[4]

Between 1997 and 2005, David and Bonnie Martin sold or donated a total of 465 acres of pastureland to the Nature Center.[4] The land is divided into three sections. The initial 157 acres acquired in 1997 make up Martin Prairie, which stretches from the Hands-on Prairie to West Van Dorn Street.[4] Hilltop Prairie, running along the western edge of the existing land, was formed from 80 acres purchased from the Martins in 1999.[4] The final 228 acres, purchased in 2005, are known as Foundation Prairie, and extend the prairie land of the Nature Center from Martin Prairie to Southwest 56th Street.[4]


The main administrative building within the Nature Center, the Prairie Building, is located at 40°46′28″N 96°46′36″W / 40.77444°N 96.77667°W / 40.77444; -96.77667. The 668 acres of land within the Nature Center contain tallgrass prairies, lowland prairies, wetlands, woodlands, and streams.[4] Nearly 500 acres of this land is tallgrass prairie.[4]

Land Management[edit]

The daily maintenance of the Nature Center is performed by the Pioneers Park Nature Center Land Management Crew. The Land Management Crew maintain trails, the buildings within the Nature Center grounds, and remove invasive trees and weeds, particularly thistles, garlic mustard, and leafy spurge. Each year, in collaboration with the Salt Valley Greenway and Prairie Corridor project, the Land Management Crew conducts prescribed burns. Cattle grazing is also employed as a conservation technique on the prairies managed by the Nature Center.

The bison, elk, and deer are cared for by the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Southwest District.


  1. ^ (nd) Nature Center. City of Lincoln. Retrieved 7/6/07.
  2. ^ (2007) Pioneer Park Nature Center- Waymarking. Groundspeak Inc. Retrieved 7/6/07.
  3. ^ (2006) The Parks of Lincoln, Nebraska. Lanier Publishing. Retrieved 7/6/07.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Lincoln Parks & Recreation | About Pioneers Park Nature Center". Retrieved 2018-06-02.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°46′29″N 96°46′36″W / 40.7746°N 96.7768°W / 40.7746; -96.7768