Pioneers Park Nature Center
History of Pioneers Park Nature Center
The Pioneers Park Nature Center is owned and operated by the City of Lincoln’s Parks and Recreation Department. The Pioneers Park Nature Center (PPNC), originally called the Chet Ager Bird and Wildlife Nature Study Sanctuary, was dedicated on May 21st, 1963. Located within Lincoln’s Pioneers Park, this area was originally set aside as a 40 acre wildlife sanctuary with one paid naturalist to lead tours. Presently, PPNC includes two interpretive facilities, 668 acres of woodland, wetland, and prairie habitats, and over eight miles of trails. Approximately 30 trained interpretive staff annually lead over 12,000 school children, scouts, and others on natural history interpretive programs.
In the 1930’s, three small ponds were dug on the land that would become the Nature Center with the hope they would be a waterfowl refuge. The largest of these, Heron Pond, dried up in the drought years of 2002-05 and was dredged in 2005 awaiting returning rains.
Sixteen acres of formerly farmed city property were acquired in 1975 across Haines Branch Creek and were joined to the original acres with a suspension bridge.
In 1984 a long-range plan was developed calling for the restoration of wetland, woodland, and prairie habitats with native plants, and for developing exhibits that would interpret native wildlife and regional ecology. The original long-range plan was updated in 1995 and again in 2001.
In 1985, an additional 80 acres were added to the Nature Center as the result of a study that eliminated the existing outdoor zoo. Exotic animals were traded or sold and new exhibits of native fox, wild turkey, bison, American elk, and white-tailed deer were completed.
The Chet Ager Building was built in 1963 and 1964. A second interpretive facility, the Prairie Building, is located adjacent to a restored tallgrass prairie, the “Hands-on Prairie.” It is comprised of three areas: the Education Wing, completed in 1990, the Malinovskis Auditorium, completed in 1997, and the exhibit/office wing, incorporating many green building features, completed in 2007.
The Nature Center acquired 56 acres in 1996 as a donation from the Robert Powell family, neighboring property owners. It was named the “Verley Prairie” in honor of Robert’s uncle Ben Verley. From David and Bonnie Martin, neighboring property owners west of the Nature Center, we acquired, through donation and purchase, 157 acres of pastureland in the fall of 1997. Located north of the Hands-on Prairie it is known as the “Martin Prairie” and extends all the way to W. Van Dorn St. In March of 1999, we purchased an additional 80 acres from the Martin family. This land lies west of the Animal Hospital and is known as the Hilltop Prairie. In 2005, 228 acres were added to the Martin Prairie extending it to West Van Dorn and SW 56th St. This purchase was made possible with the cooperation of several partners.