The Lincoln Parks Foundation, the City of Lincoln and numerous partners Thursday announced new developments in the plan to create a tallgrass prairie trail from Pioneers Park to the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center. The Prairie Corridor, along the Haines Branch of Salt Creek, 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 25 organizations and individuals and continues to grow. Primary partners are the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District, the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, the Nebraska Environmental Trust, the Parks Foundation, and the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department. 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.
“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. Three items are scheduled for public hearing and Council vote Monday, December 18:
– An interlocal agreement with the NRD
– A memorandum of understanding with the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center
– $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 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust for $900,000 for the first phase. Since that time, the City has received a second grant of $760,000 from the Trust, 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 plans to introduce a bipartisan bill to increase funding for 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 features they say 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. Both 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.
Information is available at the group’s website, prairiecorridor.org. Donations can be sent to the Lincoln Parks Foundation, 3140 “N” Street, Suite 301, Lincoln, NE 68510.