The Nature Center
by Lindsay Esparrago
Andrea Faas dedicated 10 years to working as a naturalist in environmental education before the opportunity to work at the Pioneers Park Nature Center took her by surprise in 2004. Now she tackles the responsibilities of Nature Center Coordinator.
Years later and she still feels just as passionate about the Nature Center and the “wonderfully unique” experiences she has had.
“It’s not often that the city’s heart has a nature center,” Faas said. “It’s an element that anyone can be drawn to in Lincoln.”
By “anyone” she means people of all ages with all kinds of interests. But the Nature Center staff encourages getting involved with the numerous activities and programs the center provides for those at young ages, as the center takes on the role of being “FUNdamental to Environmental Quality and Youth Development.”
The Nature Center is a large expanse of 668 acres of tall grass prairie, woodlands, wetlands and a stream. Starting at the west end of Pioneers Park, at West Van Dorn and South Coddington, explore eight miles of hiking trails and enjoy the colorful procession of native wildflowers. Look out for small mammals, basking turtles, birds of all types and fascinating insects in season.
But the Nature Center goes above and beyond just a scenic view. It’s a breath of fresh air… a chance to get away… an atmosphere that isn’t found anywhere else near downtown Lincoln. It’s an escape from those long 9 to 5 workdays, or the restless nights that sometimes follow.
“Oh, it’s just an incredibly beautiful place,” Faas said. “Any chance I get, I go out on a beautiful day and enjoy the peace and quiet in the area. It’s really just a peaceful retreat out there.”
Along with the vast amount of land to explore, comes a whole lot of history. The Pioneers Park land was donated by the city back in the 1930s and has been developing ever since. The park is on the National Register of Outstanding Landscape Architecture and consists of playground equipment, picnic shelters, a ball diamond, Pinewood Bowl concert venue and so much more, but it’s the Nature Center that makes it Nebraska.
The Nature Center strives to keep up its reputation of representing the wildlife of Nebraska. Its mission is to “interpret the natural history of Nebraska and the central great plains; to promote the enjoyment, appreciation and awareness of our natural environment; to practice and foster a conservation ethic; and to provide a sanctuary for wildlife and a peaceful retreat for people.”
And it’s doing just that.
The Nature Center offers outdoor exhibits as part of its duty as an environmental education center and wildlife sanctuary. There are a variety of habitats and visitors get to walk past non-releasable raptor exhibits, as well as bison, elk and white-tailed deer. For those who want to get a little more hands-on, two interpretive buildings house small animal exhibits. Parents can let their children express their curiosity at the Edna Shield’s Natural Play Area, where they can dig, build and climb.
There are several other buildings that may catch your eye—the Chet Ager Building, the Prairie Building, the Malinovskis Auditorium, the Heritage School and the Hudson School—which all play a huge factor in the center’s history. The Chet Ager building holds three exhibits. One is for information and hands-on activities about wetlands and woodlands. One is a ‘Base Camp,’ or an exploration area for primary school aged children, and one shows off live animals such as snakes, turtles, screech owls and a barn owl.
The Malinovskis Auditorium is a unique space. It has a natural setting with a flexible meeting room that overlooks a pond, prairie and small elk herd. It’s perfect to rent out for any occasion—business or club meetings, events, lectures, training seminars, workshops, retreats, birthdays and anniversaries. The auditorium-style seating provides holds about 80, or 60 at tables. A kitchenette and coffee urns are there for your convenience and fees are at $50/hour, three-hour minimum or $325/day.
For more information on the history, facilities, gardens, art and more visit lincoln.ne.gov/city/parks/naturecenter/about.htm
On top of the historical buildings, the center offers classes, programs and camps—even for preschoolers. You can register for classes and learn more about events at lincoln.ne.gov/city/parks/naturecenter/programs.htm
Opportunities seem endless at the Nature Center, especially because it’s open 362 days a year. Admission is free, but donations are suggested: $3/person, $5/family.
“We suggest giving donations for the people who come out just so we can continue to stay free,”
But a simple donation isn’t the only thing you can do to help. The Nature Center is always welcoming and appreciative of volunteers who enjoy nature and care about the earth and wildlife. Volunteers can lend a helping hand with land management, the herb garden, prairie garden and special events. You can also take the extra step and choose to sponsor a program or garden through the fund-raising program. Through this program you can adopt an acre, donate to a scholarship fund, buy a brick on the Heritage School or a Stepping Stone to the Elk Bridge with an engraved stone. The Nature Center wouldn’t be the dynamic place it is if it wasn’t for the support from many partners in the community.
Faas said despite how wonderful a visit to the Nature Center is, it is still underappreciated for what it truly is.
“People will drive and park just to see bison, run back to their cars and leave,” she said. “We want to focus on how we can get them to step out of their comfort zones and take a hike and see more of what we have to offer.”
More than anything, the Nature Center is in Lincoln to help people to feel rejuvenated, find a calm environment and a place of discovery, excite people, allow them to reflect, and at the end of the day—get some exercise that can’t be found at any indoor gym.
So get a new perspective on life and get to the Pioneers Park Nature Center.