2019 Annual Report on Project Progress and Accomplishments
This report provides a summary of project progress and accomplishments as described in the Interlocal Cooperation Agreement between the City and the Lower Platte South NRD. The period of this report covers the City’s fiscal year beginning September 1 of 2018 and ending August 31 of 2019. Because the Interlocal Agreement was signed in December of 2017, the partial fiscal year extending from that date through August 31 of 2018 is also included in this first report.
This report is organized according to the three pillars of the Prairie Corridor Project: 1) Education/ Outreach and Research, 2) Conservation and Habitat Restoration and 3) Trail and Economic Development. The report also includes activities undertaken by the City as part of its responsibility as lead agency for implementation and coordination.
Download the 2019 Annual Report by clicking on the cover image.
Exciting Recap of 2019
As 2019 comes to a close, it’s a good time to share a recap of the progress made with the Prairie Corridor project:
• $7 million has been secured for the Prairie Corridor, nearly one-third of our overall goal.
• Our fundraising success has allowed us to add more than 950 additional acres to the 4,500 acres along the Corridor that are already protected through conservation easements or public ownership. This includes a 135-acre conservation easement acquired in May by the Lower Platte South NRD.
• We have completed the first two segments of trail within Pioneers Park, protected more than 200 acres of virgin prairie, and re-established tallgrass prairie on more than 140 acres.
• The Stiefel/Johnson Trailhead was dedicated in July and will offer access to the future trail along the Prairie Corridor near Conestoga Lake State Recreation Center and Holmes Creek, just north of Denton. The land was donated by Tim and Judy Stiefel and named for the Stiefels and in memory of their long-time friend, the late Lucile Johnson, who previously owned the land.
• Many partners and community members got involved in the project throughout the year in events and tours of the Corridor, research, and habitat development activities. This included a bioblitz to count birds, insects and plants on Denton Prairie, technical guidance from partners for habitat development and research at Bobcat Prairie, and volunteer assistance to help plant prairie violets at Denton Prairie to benefit the regal fritillary butterfly.
UNL graduate student Ethan Freese is working with Platte Basin Timelapse and the School of Natural Resources to use digital multimedia to document the research that UNL is conducting and the biodiversity within the Corridor. Check out this timelapse imagery developed by Ethan and the Platte Basin Timelapse team that shows a prescribed burn at Bobcat Prairie and the speed of regeneration. Prescribed fire is essential for maintaining the diversity of native prairie species.
Stiefel/Johnson Trailhead Dedication:
July 25, 2019
On July 25, 2019 partners with the Prairie Corridor on Haines Branch project today dedicated the Stiefel/Johnson Trailhead at 5217 SW 84th Street. The trailhead is the first of several new parking areas that will provide access to the future trail along the Prairie Corridor. Tim and Judy Stiefel donated the 13-acre parcel to the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District (LPSNRD) for the project. It is named for the Stiefels and in memory of their long-time friend, the late Lucile Johnson, who previously owned the land. Larry Ruth, Chair of the LPSNRD Board of Directors, presented the Stiefels with a commemorative plaque, “as a symbol of our appreciation for your love of this land and for your generous donation of this property.” He said the Trailhead “will be a key access point to invite people to get outside, be active and experience the prairie up close.”
Haines Branch Prairie Corridor project is an opportunity to leave a legacy
L Magazine Article: May 27, 2019
Long ago, Lincoln Mayor Francis W. Brown challenged Lincoln’s leaders with a vision of a beautiful, meandering park through the growing city along Antelope Creek and Normal Boulevard. A Dec. 30, 1906, article in the State Journal described the community effort to work with property owners to sell or donate their land for what became Antelope Park, the Sunken Gardens and the Lincoln Children’s Zoo, and other connected greenspaces along Antelope Creek.
More than 100 years later, a similar opportunity lies just west of Lincoln.
The Prairie Corridor on Haines Branch is a tallgrass prairie passageway that connects Lincoln’s nationally-recognized trail and greenway system and Pioneers Park Nature Center to the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center. The vision is of 7,800 acres of tallgrass prairie along the Haines Branch of Salt Creek, with a crushed limestone trail that allows users to traverse and explore the prairie.
“One hundred fifty years ago, there were about 40 million acres of tallgrass prairie,” said Michael Forsberg, conservation photographer and Prairie Corridor Cabinet co-chair. “Today, roughly 98 percent is gone, including here in Nebraska. But part of what remains are these rare treasure boxes right here on the periphery of Lincoln.”
The Prairie Corridor project is a collaborative effort between more than 30 public and private agencies, led by the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department with the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District and Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center. Other key partners include the Lincoln Parks Foundation, Lancaster County, Nebraska Environmental Trust, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Natural Resources, Lincoln Community Foundation and Great Plains Trails Network.
Approximately two-thirds of the priority area for the Prairie Corridor is conserved to date. This includes Pioneers Park, Conestoga Lake State Recreation Area and Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center – destination areas that are being connected as part of the project.
Project partners are working with landowners through a voluntary, incentive-based approach to conservation through the purchase of land or conservation easements, or by enhancing the prairie resources on their own. Since the project’s inception, more than 950 acres have been voluntarily preserved in some way.
“Throughout Lincoln’s history, visionary families have made extraordinary gifts to establish and sustain some of our most well-loved greenspaces like Sunken Gardens and Pioneers Park,” said Maggie Stuckey, executive director of the Lincoln Parks Foundation. “The Prairie Corridor is an extraordinary opportunity for our generation to leave a legacy.”
The project has several pillars, including environmental education, economic opportunities, conservation and habitat restoration, and trail development.
Thousands of people annually visit the Pioneers Park Nature Center and Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, the two bookends of the Corridor. With educational and environmental experts and a reputation of providing engaging experiences in the natural world, the Corridor will be supported and amplified by these institutions. As a starting point for many Corridor visitors, both invite individuals to explore, volunteer and become immersed in the prairie.
The Prairie Corridor is positioned to become a cornerstone in Nebraska’s tourism network. This extraordinary tallgrass prairie will be easily accessed from Interstate 80 and will connect visitors with Nebraska’s natural heritage: waves of grass, wildflowers, wildlife and unbroken vistas.
This kind of ecotourism is on the rise, according to Sändra Washington, retired associate regional director for the National Park Service and a Prairie Corridor Cabinet leader.
“When people visit places, they want to connect in real ways – not just with local businesses and local food, but also local natural places,” Washington said. “The Prairie Corridor project gives us a chance to invite people to connect with what is special here, and that’s the prairie.”
For the business community, the Corridor will be a feature unique to Lincoln.
“We are competing against Minneapolis, Denver, Kansas City and other cities. These types of amenities are really helpful when recruiters are talking to people about what you can do in Lincoln,” said Pinnacle Bank Vice President Doug Ganz, a Prairie Corridor Cabinet member and co-chair of the fundraising committee.
Conservation and habitat restoration
Key natural resources within the Corridor include virgin prairie remnants, freshwater and saline wetlands, and riparian areas along the stream. Work in the Corridor will focus on preserving and enhancing these resources. Initially, researchers hope to develop a better understanding of how composition, size and shape of various tallgrass areas contribute to diversity, resiliency and species richness, and improve the understanding of habitat needs for pollinator species.
“Connecting pieces of habitat together makes places like the Prairie Corridor more resilient, makes them bigger and allows for movement of animals, grassland birds, insects and pollinators,” Forsberg said. “Natural landscapes can’t be hemmed in. They have to be able to breathe – and people need that too.”
The Prairie Corridor Trail
Studies show that connecting to the outdoors makes people healthier.
“That’s what I love about these corridors that lead us from the heart of the city to the country,” Forsberg said. “It’s not just a space that’s protecting habitat. It’s a space that helps us reconnect with ourselves too.”
Approximately 3 miles of the 14.5-mile Prairie Corridor Trail are completed, and as land is preserved, additional trail segments will be constructed. The trail will connect to the city’s 134-mile trail network, the MoPac East Trail that runs 22 miles to Wabash, and the Homestead Trail that extends 78 miles to Marysville, Kansas. The Prairie Corridor team is partnering with the Great Plains Trails Network, which has strong fundraising success with donors who love and appreciate trails.
Project partners announced May 14 that they had secured $7 million, or nearly one-third of the $22 million goal for the Prairie Corridor. The total includes a recent grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust (NET) of $900,000 and nearly $1.3 million in grants, matching funds and private donations raised since August.
Just as Mayor Brown saw the value of preserving a ribbon of greenspace through the community in the early 1900s, former Mayor Chris Beutler recognized the value of the Prairie Corridor.
“Our community has a long history of ambitious projects that have made a big difference for the quality of life in Lincoln, like Pioneers Park and Wilderness Park,” Beutler said. “The Prairie Corridor is our generation’s legacy project. Let’s protect and preserve this beautiful natural resource for our community and for future generations.”
Celebrating the Prairie Corridor
News Conference: May 14, 2019
On May 14, 2019 the Prairie Corridor partners held an event celebrating the Prairie Corridor, which was preceded by a press conference announcing the following:
- $7 million has been secured for the Prairie Corridor, nearly one-third of the overall goal
- Fundraising success has allowed the for the addition of more than 950 additional acres to the 4,500 acres along the Corridor that were already protected through conservation easements or public ownership
- The first two segments of trail within Pioneers Park have been completed, protecting more than 200 acres of virgin prairie, and re-establishing tallgrass prairie on over 140 acres
- Mayor Beutler will continue working on the project as the co-chair of 16-member Prairie Corridor on Haines Branch Cabinet
- News Release
Lincoln City Council Public Hearing: December 18, 2017
City Council Action: December 18, 2017
On December 18, 2017 the Lincoln City Council held a public hearing and voted to approve Items 26-28 on the agenda:
- An Interlocal Cooperation Agreement with the Lower Platte South NRD
- A Cooperation Agreement with the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center
- The transfer of $400,000 from the City to the Foundation for an endowment to maintain the Prairie Corridor
21:07 – 1:50:20- Public Hearing items for the three items (#26-28) pertaining to the Prairie Corridor.
3:27:42 – 3:56:00 – City Council voting session pertaining to items #26-28.
News Conference: December 7, 2017
The Lincoln Parks Foundation, the City of Lincoln and other partners announced new developments in the plan to create the Prairie Corridor on Haines Branch, a tallgrass prairie passage and trail from Pioneers Park to the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, at a news conference at 10 a.m. Thursday, December 7 at the Center for Great Plains Studies, 1155 “Q” Street.
Legacy Project for Prairie Corridor Moving Forward
News Release: December 7, 2017
The Lincoln Parks Foundation (Foundation), the City of Lincoln and other partners today announced new developments in the plan to create a tallgrass prairie passage and trail from Pioneers Park to the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center. The Prairie Corridor on Haines Branch is expected to build on Lincoln’s trail system, promote ecotourism, support environmental education and preserve tallgrass prairie. The project’s website is prairiecorridor.org.
The Prairie Corridor Partnership includes about 25 organizations and individuals and continues to grow. Primary partners are the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District (NRD), the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, the Nebraska Environmental Trust (NET), the Foundation and the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department, which serves as the lead agency. The Foundation recently created a 16-member Prairie Corridor Cabinet to help with fund-raising and community engagement. Nationally-recognized conservationist and photographer Michael Forsberg chairs the Cabinet. (A list of members follows this release).
“We now have the extraordinary, once-in-a-generation opportunity to preserve our little piece of that tall grass prairie here in Lancaster County,” Forsberg said. “We have these natural areas-beautiful treasure boxes-that are in both public and private ownership. We also have the tools to protect them. Using those tools, we can ensure the tall grass prairie experience will be here for our children and grandchildren as Lincoln continues to grow.”
Three items regarding the Prairie Corridor will be introduced at the City Council meeting Monday, December 11. These three items are scheduled for public hearing and Council vote Monday, December 18:
- An interlocal agreement with the NRD
- An memorandum of understanding with the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center
- The transfer of $400,000 from the City to the Foundation for an endowment to maintain the Prairie Corridor
The project was first conceptualized during the development of the Lincoln-Lancaster County 2040 Comprehensive Plan. Implementation began in 2013 with the awarding of a three-year NET grant for $900,000 for the first phase. Since that time, the City has received a second NET grant of $760,000 for the second phase and is working with a coalition of public and private partners who are providing funding and in-kind contributions. The grants and matching funds bring the total of committed funding $4.58 million.
The partners have worked with landowners to purchase parcels and easements along the corridor. So far, about 5,300 acres of the 7,600-acre corridor have been protected, including about 90 acres of virgin prairie, and over 100 acres have been seeded to reestablish tallgrass prairie.
U.S. Representative Jeff Fortenberry, a former Lincoln City Council member, recently announced his plans to introduce a bipartisan bill to increase funding toward restoring threatened ecosystems. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would designate $1.3 million annually to fund state wildlife conservation programs, a potential source of funding for the Prairie Corridor project.
The partners have outlined three project pillars that will benefit the City and State:
Trail and Economic Opportunity: Ecotourism is an important part of the state’s economic strategy. Pioneers Park currently has over 400,000 visitors annually, and Spring Creek Prairie has at least 10,000. The 10-mile trail will connect to the City’s 133-mile trail network and be a key component of ecotourism, encouraging visitors to stay another day in Lincoln. It will start at Pioneers Park and run along the Haines Branch of Salt Creek through the Village of Denton, connecting with the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center. An additional segment would take riders to the Conestoga Lake State Recreation area. The Prairie Corridor will enhance Lincoln’s brand as “the Prairie Capital” and emerging leadership in development of the “Silicon Prairie,” and assist with attracting and retaining a vibrant work force.
Conservation and Habitat Development: The tallgrass prairie is one of the most threatened ecosystems in the U.S., with less than one percent of what once covered vast areas remaining in the continental U.S. About two percent of Nebraska’s tallgrass prairie remains mostly as remnants less than 80 acres in size. The tallgrass prairie, riparian stream corridors and the freshwater and saline wetlands in the Corridor provide unique habitat, supporting a variety of plant and insect species. Goals include preserving and enhancing over 3,400 acres of existing native prairie and native seedling areas; reestablishing tallgrass prairie on over 1,900 acres; preserving and enhancing over 30 acres of eastern saline wetlands; and enhancing woodland habitat along stream corridors.
Research, Outreach and Education: The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has identified at least 15 at-risk pollinator species, and the Nebraska Wildlife Action Plan identifies loss of pollinators as a threat to the Tallgrass Prairie Ecoregion. The Prairie Corridor partners include UNL’s School of Natural Resources, which will look at how to increase pollinator species through tallgrass prairie management, restoration and reestablishment.
The Prairie Corridor will also build on the outreach and education already offered by the Pioneers Park Nature Center and the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center. These Centers provide interactive programs for thousands of students and families each year. Volunteer opportunities will be created in the areas of education, habitat development and land management.
Lincoln Parks Foundation forms Prairie Corridor Cabinet
Recently, the Parks Foundation convened a group of sixteen Lincolnites who share the vision for the Haines Branch Prairie Corridor project. This Prairie Corridor Cabinet includes business people, community volunteers, philanthropists, and others. Over the course of the next several months, the Cabinet will assist in fundraising, community engagement, and other aspects of the project as it moves forward. A list of the Cabinet members can be found here. Nationally-recognized conservationist and photographer Michael Forsberg co-chairs the Cabinet with Mayor Chris Beutler.