Prairie Pines providing nature-based education

Prairie Pines providing nature-based education

Children planing trees

In 1959, Walter Bagley, a University of Nebraska–Lincoln forestry associate professor, and his wife, Virginia, purchased 145 acres of cropland near Lincoln. Their longtime dedication and hard work transformed the land into a nature preserve comprising grasslands, woodlands, wetlands, crop plots and grass trails now known as Prairie Pines.

The property became the first “choose and cut” Christmas tree farm in Nebraska in 1965. It was also the first home for Raptor Recovery and the first conservation easement in Nebraska. In 1992, the Bagleys donated Prairie Pines to the University of Nebraska Foundation to be “protected forever as a place that would provide a pleasant habitat for all beings – plant and animal.”

Today Prairie Pines gives the public an opportunity to explore the natural environment and provides nature-based education about natural resources conservation, wildlife and the environment. It includes 10 acres of never-plowed tallgrass prairie, one of the most endangered ecosystems in the U.S.

The Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources leases the space, with management by the Nebraska Forest Service. Programming is provided by the Prairie Pines Partners, a nonprofit established in 2009 to facilitate the Bagleys’ vision, in collaboration with IANR and the Forest Service.

As Prairie Pines Partners board members, Mike Hillis and Sue Kohles provide leadership to further develop Prairie Pines as a site of natural resource conservation for education, research and recreation for all.

Everything revolves around collaboration and education, said Hillis, who remembers taking his tree identification final exam on the property when he took a class taught by Bagley.

Celebrate life by planting trees and saving and establishing natural prairies wherever you are.Walter Bagley

“We have this great space where anything is doable in it. We take our passions and expand upon this and make this grow,” Hillis said.

The board credits Prairie Pines’ success to partnerships with IANR, the Nebraska Forest Service, Community Crops and the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum. Collaborations have also existed with Lincoln community businesses and events, local schools and outreach and educational organizations. The board is currently working with the university’s Ruth Staples Child Development Laboratory and the LUX Center for the Arts to host a summer day camp for kids to teach them about nature and to incorporate nature into an art project.

The board’s biggest goal moving forward is to increase access to the site. It is currently working to build a trail to connect Prairie Pines with the current Murdock Trail in northeast Lincoln. This will provide alternative access for active and passive use by the public and learning communities. The board also plans to expand hours and educational opportunities and add to the existing signage.

Offices are currently inside the Bagleys’ house, which is being remodeled to make it more conducive for meeting rental by corporations throughout Lincoln. The house also is being converted into a welcome center.

For a natural space to continue and to be conserved, its value must be realized, Kohles said. “We are part of a broader ecosystem. We are key to making sure that these communities are resilient and vibrant because they are the key to our existence.”

Prairie Pines is open to the public the second Saturday of each month from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

This summer Prairie Pines will host summer day camps for kids, the Meadowlark Music Festival and the “Run for the Pines” trail run. For more information on upcoming events and educational opportunities, visit prairiepines.org.