Vivacious songs of Dickcissels in a grassy swale - accompanied by the subtle trill of a meadowlark on the hill - set the natural tone for the dedication of the new addition to the Allwine Prairie Preserve.
As the birds sang continually to express their claim to a seasonal home provided through land conservation efforts, more than 100 people gathered on May 26, on an adjacent slope to recognize the profound success in adding more natural territory to a place that has been a protected haven since the late 1950s.
The celebration officially marked the addition of a 83 acre tract, the lowland portion of Glacier Creek, to the Allwine Prairie Preserve.
Glacier Creek is a bit of a flow, starting from spring seeps in the hills of northern Douglas County, Nebraska. These perpetual waters have trickled eastward to their confluence with the nearby Big Papillion Creek.
The University of Nebraska - Omaha, has managed 160 acres here, for about fifty years, and they now have a bigger place for education and research endeavors.
The "Glacier Creek Dedication" marked "the success of the first phase of the Glacier Creek Project," according to a flyer.
It was only appropriate that the opening remarks were provided by Dr. Thomas B. Bragg, preserve director and a professor of "grassology" whose studies in recent decades have meant so much to understanding the role of fire in prairie ecosystems, and other essentials to grassland ecosystems. It seemed apropos on this Wednesday, that a portion of the upland prairie at the preserve, was newly sprouting from a recent burn to nourish the grassland.
The addition of this tract "contributes to environmental awareness and education in the Omaha area," he said. This is a "key step in the progress of the Glacier Creek Project." Dr. Bragg was the scientist that mentioned Glacier Creek was spring-fed and was shown on the original surveys of the General Land Office, which would have been something like 150 years ago.
"This is an exciting expansion," Bragg said.
The event tent at the Glacier Creek tract dedication.
John Cristensen, UNO chancellor, said the efforts which resulted in the expansion of the conservation area, "signals the kind of things that can happen through partnership and collaboration." He also mentioned the targets of further efforts including expansion of the tract, and construction of an educational building, indicating that the original donation of the tract occurred in 1959 when donated by Arthur A. Allwine, with interest in the place blossoming in the 1970s, with student research and other educational uses.
There were more than 1200 public and school visitors to Allwine prairie in 2009, according to the event flyer, and this represents organizations including the Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4-H, Sierra Club and others. The building will be built where cars parked for the dedication, near the current cluster of buildings.
At this time there was a short interlude. A Cooper's Hawk was loose, but it was flying around inside a building while the intent was to release it into the wild skies. Once it was recaptured, and while being held prior to release, was the focus of great attention. Multiple cameras took pictures, people gathered around to watch as Denise Lewis, of Raptor Recovery Nebraska made a few remarks. After three months of rehabilitation, it was set free on the prairie, and quickly flew west to perch on a tree.
It was a thrill to the crowd, as the raptor winged its way away.
Jim Thompson, of the Papio-Missouri Natural Resources District - a contributor of hundreds of thousands of dollars - expressed well the view of the day, indicating the importance of partnerships. This agency is helping to develop a conceptual plan to create meanders and enhance the wetland conditions of lower Glacier Creek, before the water flows in the Big Papillion Creek. Towards the end of the hiking trail, there was a diagram of this potential plan, showing what may be pending.
Mark Brohman, executive director of the Nebraska Environmental Trust, also spoke. He mentioned having just been in New York City, and where he noticed the urban residents congregating at a small bit of green in the city, whereas on this day, he was among an expanse of grass with sufficient space for everyone to spread out.
"Glacier Creek is the type of project for which the Nebraska Environmental Trust was established," Brohman said in a personal interview, it "preserves and protects and restores natural resources for everyone, including future generations."
"We are happy we can participate in projects like this," Brohman said. "With partners we can stretch our dollars so much further."
The environmental trust first provided a grant for this place in 2000, to assist with a lowland restoration project. In 2007, a grand grant of $1 million was awarded by the trust and its forward looking board and evaluators. Thus far, $581,000 has been expended, so additional dollars are still available to assist in achieving future goals.
Other prairie enthusiasts were among the crowd on the hills, including Glenn Pollock, an enthusiast whom has worked on prairie conservation for many years. He will have a personal role in the new addition, as he explained a plan to harvest seeds from plants in wet prairie in Iowa - along the Missouri River and Nishnabotna River - and sow them on the lowlands of Glacier Creek. Species he especially hopes to establish include Sullivan's milkweed, the tough prairie cordgrass, compass plant, and others which would find the growing conditions to be fine for them to thrive. He has done similar work of this type in Iowa, and hopes that he can collect some seeds this autumn, and spread them about during the same time, in an effort that will, according to his prognosis, take 20 years before the place will once again look similar to a native prairie.
Ione Werthman, the reason there is a Heron Haven along Maple Street in west Omaha, was present enjoying some time among the grass, and always willing to talk about habitat conservation and its importance. Trilety Wade, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and other characteristic garb, looked as if she had walked off a page from My Antonia. Also noted were Neal Ratzlaff, and Dr. Jeffrey Peake, a professor of geography at UNO. Staff of The Nature Conservancy were also present.
"It is great we have gotten so far," said Dr. Bragg. "Today showed there is a lot of support for this effort which is improving the quality of life for the community."
"I was really pleased," he said.
View of the Glacier Creek addition.
Cookies and lemonade - or tea - were provided on a day with temperatures in the lower 80s, and clearing skies with dark clouds about. There was no rain at the prairie, though it did rain nearby, but it seemed as if the glory of late spring showed down upon the place, setting a scene for birds and people to enjoy, as the efforts of many years were recognized, and duly noted by accolades of appreciation for effort and support.
Birds noted during the late-afternoon visit: Turkey Vulture, Cooper's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Rock Pigeon, Western Kingbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Cliff Swallow, Barn Swallow, House Wren, American Robin, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Cardinal, Dickcissel, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird and Baltimore Oriole.
The dedication was a World Environment Day Event, sponsored by the Biology Department at UNO and the Papio-Missouri NRD.