22 December 2012

Candid Story by Daniel Boone at Omaha

I had always read about the hunting grounds of the West with interest, and here I was as far West as Omaha, and with a couple of guns and ammunition suitable for the destruction of anything from a Bob White to a buffalo. I went to a hotel with my baggage and asked to be shown to a room. When I went up I was decently attired "commercial traveler," but when I came down with one of my guns I was a "knight of the plains," a "deer slayer," a "r-r-red handed ranger of the plains." I was characteristically attired in a pair of grass colored pantaloons with a row of fringe and eagle feathers down the outside; a pair of moccasins made by an "Indian" and his son, of your city; a coat with sporting topics stamped on the buttons of the same color, and a cap to march; then I had some revolvers, a hatchet, a knife and some cartridges in a belt buckled around my waist. I also had a waterproof box in my pocket containing money, matches and salt. I was going out on the Union Pacific Railway for geese. My appearance at the depot caused the most profound commotion, for, although it may be no new thing for the Omahawsers to see men going out from among them armed to their teeth, and with a resolute mein, bespeaking that they are prepared to protect themselves "to the last extremity." I still fancy that, without meaning to be partial to myself, they seldom saw among them a hunter with everything about him so entirely fresh and modern. It was perhaps with some such thought as this that I asked a policeman how long it would be till train time, and if there was a photographer handy. He said there wasn't, and then he looked at something on my coat and told a man if he'd tell him what that was he could have it. I looked there to brush it off, whatever it was but I couldn't see anything. There was a man on the train who was a hunter also. His name was Tucker; the other man's name was Penny. They were going after geese too. They asked me if I could shoot geese — if I had ever shot geese before. I said no, but I could soon get into the hang of it; I was a regular stunner on glass balls and hitting oyster cans. he said he wasn't very good on geese himself, and I said what he wanted was nerve. He oughtn't get excited. He was too much afraid he'd miss. Then he commenced telling the other men about, if a fellow had a pug nose he was always sure to be a "smart Alex," and then I went and sat in another seat. There is no use in a man getting mad at a fellow, even if his nose is inclined in the right direction, just because he can shoot geese better than he can himself.

The first evening I was out after geese I didn't shoot any, owing to the altitude of the geese. The next day, as I was to leave the next morning, I was a little hurried and didn't do as well as I mostly do when I'm after geese. I only brought home eight. They are thirty-five cents apiece out West. That's all.

Daniel Boone, Jr. December 30, 1880. A candid story. Forest and Stream 15(22): 430.

19 December 2012

Wild Pigeon Shooting Tournament at Niagara

This article is distinctive in the rational given for using wild pigeons as targets for gunners. There were 2000 birds to be acquired for the event.

The Pigeon Shooting Tournament

We have been advised by the President of the Niagara Falls Shooting Club that said club will hold a pigeon shooting tournament at Niagara Falls on the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th of September, with money prizes of value from $2,000 to $5,000, classed in each shoot as one, two, three, four and five moneys — ties of ten shot off for first, and so on through; then a grand "free for all," say $2,000 in money, in the same way. Birds are ordered, coops are building, and committees are appointed on railroad reduction of rates, and all are vigorously preparing for the event. The International Hotel will reduce their rate one dollar, making it $3.50 per day. Carriages and all other charges in an about the place will be materially reduced to rates that cannot fail but be satisfactory to all. By resolution, all the members are appointed a reception committee.

Under the auspices of the strong and very energetic club, the tournament cannot fail of complete success. Emulous of rival organizations throughout the State, it is determined not to be outdone at Syracuse, Oswego, or Watertown, and we have no doubt that more pigeons will be shot, better scores be made, bigger prizes be won, more money be spent, a larger assembly be present, and a better time generally be had, than at any other similar meeting hitherto held, or to come for the next half century. Certainly the incidental surroundings of Niagara Falls are sufficient in themselves to make the tournament attractive. One thing, however, we do regret, and that is, that this meeting of the National Convention as the first day of the shoot. No side show of this kind is necessary to tempt the attendance of gentlemen who propose to meet for the sole object of devising the best method to protect and preserve our game. Not one serious, earnest delegate the more will be present in consequence of the tournament. The club might just as well, and with greater propriety, have postponed its festivities until the following day, without in the least degree jeopardizing its mechanical harmony or its prospects of success. We shall always oppose the mixing of business with pleasure and the association of holiday pastimes with the proceedings of a deliberative body. We regard the action of the Niagara Falls club in bringing these two widely diverse and divergent objects into juxtaposition as impolitic in the extreme. Its direct tendency, as we know from conversation with gentlemen that might be named, is to alienate those persons whose intelligent cooperation and knowledge of the subject are most valuable, and really indispensable. There is not the slightest kinship or harmony between the destruction of pigeons at a trap and the legislating for the protection and propagation of game. We make no objection to the pastime of pigeon shooting, though not enthusiastic in that line of sport. We hope for the Niagara Falls tournament every possible success; but we wish the localities of the Convention and the Tournament were was wide apart and remote as their objects are divergent.

That the objects of the Convention have received the consideration of sportsmen at large, and that the call has a widespread approval, we doubt not. This is manifested in the haste of at least one Western State to respond, namely, Ohio. This state has appointed a delegation for the September meeting composed of Colonel C.W. Wooley, of Cincinnati, Hon. A.T. Brinsninde, of Cleveland, C.P. Brigham, of Toledo, Harvey H. Brown, of Cleveland, and C.A. Logan, of Cincinnati, each delegate being empowered to elect a sub-delegation of five.

We trust that other states will be as fully and as ably represented. It is important that the Convention should be full, for this can scarcely be regarded as anything else than a preliminary meeting to devise some basis for future action, and some general ground plan upon which to construct that legislative contrivance, so much desired, which shall essentially remedy the evils and objections that now attach to existing game laws. It is equally important, too, that the Convention should adjourn to a day sufficiently distant to ensure a full consideration of the subject and the receipt of such schemes as wisdom or ingenuity may suggest and present.

August 13, 1874. Forest and Stream 3(1): 8.

The Pigeon Shooting Tournament at Niagara

No doubt the roar of the great cataract at Niagara will drown the popping of the pigeon-shooters' guns next September 9th, so that the noise thereof will not disturb the deliberations of the Convention that meets to secure the protection of game. We hope it may. We trust also that the session of the delegates will in no way annoy the pigeon-shooters or distract their nerves. We look for good scores this day fortnight, when the air is cool, and all the conditions of season, climate and locality are favorable thereto. Bad marksmanship brings no satisfactory return. In pigeon practice, the death of each bird ought to bring some compensating benefit to the contestants, either in rewards of merit, the pleasure of honorable emulation, or in improved accuracy. We never could bring ourselves to believe that pigeons were created for the express purpose of being shot from the trap, although they seem in this way to serve men best. They are of very little account in pot pie; while, living, they break down forests and defile the face of nature in the vicinity of their roosts. So long as it is more important that our citizens should become expert in the use of arms than that the lives of thousands of pigeons should be saved, so long shall we defend the practice of trap-shooting. It secures quickness of trigger, accuracy of aim, confidence in the field, readiness for emergency, and renders our people the worthy descendants of ancestors whose training amid wilderness experiences and hand to hand encounters with wild beasts enabled them to conquer a country and win an independence. It was in such a school as this that our forefathers were tried; in this they learned the art of arms. Pigeon shooting we regard as essential to the defence of our country through the education of our citizens to be marksmen, and until some contrivance shall be invented or discovered which shall serve equally well in the manual of instruction, we must be content to permit and endure trap-shooting, repugnant as it may be to our finer natures.

Through numerous letters from members of the Niagara Shooting Club, we learn that the preparations for entertaining their guests on a grand scale are progressing most satisfactorily, and we doubt not that the tournament will be one of the most "recherche" (is the word proper?) of any similar festival yet held in this country. The Club is one of the oldest we have, and one of the most influential. Possibly all its members are thoroughbred sportsmen and earnest conservators of game, who rejoin at the prospect that some good may accrue from the deliberations of those who meet to improve the game laws, and will in every way aid and abet their action; nevertheless, as we have already said, we should prefer that the Tournament had been called on some other day than that selected by the Convention.

Anonymous. Pigeon shooting tournament. August 27, 1874. Forest and Stream 3(3): 41.

17 December 2012

Wild Pigeon Shooting in the Alleghanies

By P.L.W.
Deer Park, Md., September 18, 1874.
Editor Forest and Stream:—

I have often seen in the Forest and Stream descriptions of duck, snipe, woodcock, trap, pigeon, &c., shooting, but I do not recollect reading any article on wild pigeon shooting in the country. I think that they are worth mentioning, for they afford a great deal of sport when they are frightened. It is true that they generally fly in flocks of ten or twenty, and therefore they give you more to shoot at than some other birds; but when they get scared, then you will find that you have "greased lightning to aim at." I think that I had more fun (it could not be called sport) at a pigeon roost last September than on any other gunning excursion.

About eight miles from home the pigeons had formed a roost, as it is called, a place where they came in immense numbers to pass the night. Five or six of us, hearing very glowing accounts of the number of birds that were being killed, resolved to spend a night there. So one fine afternoon, about four o'clock, we started out "seeking what we might devour." We soon reached the edge of the roost, but as it was too early for the birds, we built a fire and ate our suppers, and "laid around loose" until sunset; then we started out, reaching the ground as the birds began to settle on the trees and bushes. Our forests here are composed almost entirely of oaks of various kinds, the white, red, black, yellow, chestnut, pin and jack oaks being the principal varieties; the latter (jack oaks) form the underbrush in most places, and are the favorites with the pigeons, who crowd so thickly upon them that the smaller branches were many of them broken off. As soon as it was fairly dark we got to work. We had brought three laborers with us to carry lanterns, and they now became of use. All who had guns advanced together on the front, and kept moving on until we thought there was a sufficient quantity of "noise." We would then fire in the direction from whence it came. The men with lights would then search for the killed and wounded. The first shot we killed 65 birds, or at least found that number, for two farmers came with a wagon next morning and found nearly a load of dead and wounded pigeons lying on the ground. Of course I don't mean in this particular spot, but all over the roost. About midnight we separated into two parties and went in opposite directions.

About three o'clock we found we had all the birds we could carry, so we returned to camp and slept until morning dawned upon us in the shape of a fine misty rain. The pigeons were put in ordinary grain sacks, and when they were counted we had seventy birds apiece. This is somewhat barbarous sport, but very exciting, the birds flying all around you, men swearing as they fall into the numerous holes, or run into thorn bushes, and the ever present idea that some one is about to put a load of shot into you make it quite lively.

The birds are coming in in great numbers, and from the present lookout we shall have good sport this Fall.

If any one of your readers wishes to try this kind of shooting I would be happy to furnish him any information in regard to it that he may wish.

The town (Deer Park) is on the main stem of the B. and O. R.R., 220 miles from Baltimore.

October 8, 1874. Pigeon Shooting in the Alleghanies. Forest and Stream 3(9): 140.

Maryland — Deer Park, Sept. 30. — I have never seen birds as thick as the wild pigeons are this fall. I have been out every day this week, and have been very successful. On Monday evening in an hour and a half I got nineteen; Tuesday, fourteen, Wednesday, twenty-two, Thursday, twenty-four, Friday, thirty-three, Saturday, thirty-nine, in all one hundred and fifty-one, and an average of twenty-five. I killed these birds all from one point of woods, that runs out into an open glade. They were flying to the main roosts, which is about our half-way house. With the exception of fifteen, these were shot on the wing, from small flocks of five or ten. I could have killed a larger number had I shot at birds in trees, for the oak timber all around me was loaded with them while they were feeding on acorns. Once I did shoot a single barrel at a tree full, and the result was fifteen birds. I killed so many that I have refused all invitations to go to the roost, but others have taken my place, for we can barely get enough sleep on account of the number of gunners. ...

[From portion of Shot Gun and Rifle column in same issue, as submitted by same contributor.]

Maryland — Deer Park, Oct. 12. — Pigeons are still plentiful some six or eight miles from here, but are secure near town, although they fly over in the morning and evening to and from the feeding grounds.

On Wednesday [October 7th] I bagged sixty-two in about two hours. Immense numbers of birds have been killed, and quite a number of gentlemen have been here from Baltimore, Cumberland, and two (the best shots and keenest sportsmen) from Bedford Springs, Va. Some of these gentlemen have not been successful, for they came too late for the shooting near town, and had not time to go any distance. Two or three men, whose names I don't know, have been netting pigeons for the past two or three weeks, and you may judge of their luck from the fact that they shipped 300 dozens of birds in the first two weeks of their being here. I do not know whether this is against the laws of Maryland, but it is against those of fairness and humanity.

This wholesale slaughter has aroused the indignation of all the neighboring sportsmen, and I have heard several say that they had been hunting for the nets without success, intending to destroy them if they were found. Grouse are quite plentiful and bring a good price (forty cents apiece). A few quail, and occasionally a wild turkey may be seen for sale. I shall go about ten miles into the country this week for a couple of days grouse and pigeon shooting, and will inform you of my luck.

W. October 15, 1874. Forest and Stream 3(10): 149-150.

[The wild pigeons had departed from this area by the latter part of mid-October.]

12 December 2012

Game Market Prices Convey Bird History

Throughout centuries of among urban North America, residents regularly went to a town or city market to purchase something edible for the day's main meal. There were many offering during the different season of so many years. There were pigeons, snipe, ducks, prairie hens, quail and partridge offered by the merchants. Such a shopping trip was nothing unusual as game animals taken in the wild spaces were regularly hauled elsewhere and available for purchase among the stalls of the market.

Associated details of retail or wholesale prices within pages of local newspapers or specialty publications provide an evocative perspective, available nearly weekly in some cities of the eastern states.

New York City had an especially lively market, with some of the first particulars from 1763 and 1800. More expansive specifics start in the mid-1850s, especially in 1853. Details of special importance were given by a regular column titled "Family Marketing" that presented retail costs, with another feature in the local paper being a weekly summary of the wholesale prices. Though these were typically exclusive, they provide a distinct dichotomy when both were available, such as in 1857.

Accurate details were regularly reported for this east coast city, as especially known for the 1850s-1860s. It is, however, only one example of the myriad pertinent sources. There were other city markets of with specifics about the prevalent cost of purchasing a particular number of various sorts of birds. As the frontier moved west, transportation routes expanded, local and regional commerce was underway, and with particular specifics of reporting, the market prices for various commodities were expressed in vivid detail.

Thousands of records of particular interest were issued for New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Memphis, San Francisco, Milwaukee, and during the last few years of this period, at St. Louis and Omaha. Other urban places might also have similar price details, such as the cost of a dozen wild pigeons or wild squabs, the price of a pair of different types of ducks or prairie hens, or how much is cost for a wild goose or swan, or for a dozen sand snipe.

There were particulars given, though the actual identity that conforms to the actual indications can be rather vague. Known records are available for the 1850s through 1870s, and into the 1880s.

More than species or bird types can be identified to some extent or another. The following is a preliminary indication, based upon more than 7000 records:

¶ Greater Prairie Chicken: 892 records (as of the afternoon of 12 December 2012); prairie chickens, prairie hens, and in some cases grouse, which, thought a name attribution might seem to be different, apparently conform to this species
¶ Mallard: 665; usually listed to this particular bird name, but sometimes the wild duck
¶ Northern Bobwhite: 606; usually quail, but sometimes partridge
¶ Passenger Pigeon: 557; wild pigeons, flight pigeons
¶ Ruffed Grouse: 368; partridge
¶ Teal: 360
¶ Duck: 344; including small ducks, common ducks, mixed ducks
¶ Rock Dove: 276; mostly in reference to generic pigeons, or tame squabs
¶ American Woodcock: 208; woodcock
¶ Canvasback: 202; canvas-backs, canvass-backs; distinct as sold by men in the market because of its unique and appreciated culinary distinction
¶ American Black Duck: 192
¶ Snipe: 182; snipe was a generic term commonly used to refer to a variety of different species
¶ Redhead: 171
¶ Wild Turkey: 171
¶ Wilson's Snipe: 151; English or jack snipe
¶ Plover: 137
¶ Canada Goose: 136; wild goose
¶ Scaup: 126; broad-bills
¶ Wood Duck: 124
¶ American Wigeon: 116; the widgeon
¶ Sandpiper: 116; sand snipe or surf snipe
¶ Dowitcher: 95
¶ Brant Goose: 71; brant
¶ Goose: 66
¶ Gadwall: 65; grey duck
¶ Yellowlegs: 63
¶ American Robin: 59; robin or occasionally misspelled as robbins
¶ Bobolink: 58; reed or rice birds
¶ Sharp-tailed Grouse: 50
¶ Snow Goose: 47
¶ Curlew: 41; curlew snipe
¶ Red Knot: 31; robin snipe
¶ Greater Yellowlegs: 26; large yellowlegs
¶ Semipalmated Sandpiper: 25
¶ Grouse: 22
¶ Golden/Grey Plover: 19; black-breasted snipe
¶ Lesser Yellowlegs: 19; small yellowlegs
¶ Blackbird: 18
¶ Godwit: 16
¶ Quail: 14; used to designate quail in an area where several species occurred in the nearby wilds
¶ Lark: 12
¶ Charadrius plover: 11; belted plover
¶ Dove: 11
¶ Common Pheasant: 10; English pheasant as brought over from Europe, as there was international trade in this commodity
¶ Northern Pintail: 10; spring-tail
¶ Shorebird: 10
¶ Tundra Swan: 10; swan sold at the NYC market
¶ Greater White-fronted Goose: 7
¶ Sora: 7
¶ Unidentified birds: 7
¶ Bufflehead: 6
¶ Blue-winged Teal: 5; when specifically referred to a blue-wing
¶ Clapper Rail: 5
¶ American Golden Plover: 4; green plover
¶ Pectoral Sandpiper: 4
¶ Upland Sandpiper: 4
¶ Cedar Waxwing: 3; cedar birds
¶ Pigeon: 3
¶ Willow Ptarmigan: 3; scotch grouse
¶ Green-winged Teal: 2
¶ Merganser: 2; sheld-drakes or shell-drakes
¶ American Avocet: 1
¶ American Coot: 1
¶ Blue Jay: 1
¶ California Quail: 1; mentioned from the west coast in the early 1860s
¶ Cinnamon Teal: 1; mentioned from the west coast in the early 1860s
¶ Cormorant: 1
¶ Dark-eyed Junco: 1; small blue snow bird
¶ Emperor Goose: 1
¶ Gambel's Quail: 1
¶ Goldeneye: 1
¶ Great Blue Heron: 1; blue heron
¶ Great Egret: 1; white heron
¶ Grebe: 1; hell-diver
¶ Grey Plover: 1
¶ Guillemot: 1
¶ Killdeer: 1
¶ Long-tailed Duck: 1
¶ Loon: 1
¶ Meadowlark: 1
¶ Mountain Quail: 1
¶ Mourning Dove: 1
¶ Northern Flicker: 1; clape
¶ Northern Shoveler: 1
¶ Sandhill Crane: 1
¶ Shearwater: 1
¶ Swan: 1
¶ Unidentified species: 1
¶ Whooping Crane: 1; white crane, Illinois
¶ Willet: 1
¶ Woodpecker: 1

Problematic are attributions indicated as brant. An easy "out" was taken to refer to this designation as referring to the Brant Goose, though other species could have certainly been among the birds denoted. Also, it was perplexing while making decisions about the sorts of birds in the market, whether a slight difference in wordage referred to a tame or wild pigeon. Sand snipe undoubtedly referred to different species, as did plover, dowitcher and other similar sorts of shorebirds. Some species were determined by comparing the given names to different sources of the era which identified birds and the names by which they were known.

Most essential has been the aggregation of so-many individual records that an overall comparison is possible. Details can be evaluated in several ways, including:

  • species identified, based upon the many pages of newspapers evaluated;
  • number of records for each particular sort of bird;
  • occasional details about the condition and availability of birds;
  • particulars to compare the numbers sold during a particular year, as especially available for Chicago; and
  • seasonal occurrence of regularly noted species, and how pertinent laws would alter the months when different game birds could be legally sold, as the legal statutes changed through the period.

Ancillary information, especially for New York City, also provides a sense of the many markets, their history, noting the eleven markets present in 1827. There are even details about Delmonico's, a prominent restaurant where gourmands gathered to feast on seasonably available game.

These thousands of records are distinctive and certainly essential for any effort to comprehensively consider another fascinating subject regarding birds during 1850- 1885. Further record gathering is still underway and to hopefully mean a discovery of additional facts of fascination for any aficionado of historic ornithology.

07 December 2012

Efforts Determined to Conserve Green-space at Platte Confluence

Further steps will occur to conserve a vitally important green-space on the north side of the Platte River at its confluence with the Missouri River.

"Issue no. 1" is to find a means to purchase property at the site from at two primary land-owners, Arcadian Fertilizer L.P. (a.k.a. PCS Nitrogen) and the Metropolitan Utilities District. Overall, the area spreads across more than 600 acres, southeast of LaPlatte along the Platte River side of a floodwater levee, eastward of the natural bluff and tree-line where there is a relict of a former oxbow, and south of LaPlatte Road and the under construction Highway 34 road alignment.

To help with this goal, a depiction of the site will be prepared — according to a verbal commitment — to suggest what amenities of other features which might occur at the site once it became public property.

In January, a "phase 1" report will be presented to the Back-to-the-River group, by the Bug Muddy Workshop, which this group focused on the Missouri River, hired in this regard. This document, according to two representatives, will be shared with attendees present at a Thursday afternoon, in the board room of the Papio-Missouri Natural Resources District.

It was a unique confluence of stake-holders. There was candid conversation by more than 30 people gathered to discuss the future of some land at the river confluence. The meeting which resulted from a personal request, was a lively discussion of issues of concern.

Attendees included several people from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Back to the River organization, the City of Bellevue including planning staff, three men from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, an executive director of the Nebraska Environmental Trust, men interested in fish from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Olsson Associates, staff of the Papio-Missouri NRD, a lawyer for PCS Nitrogen, PYRA Engineering since they are working on the levee situation, Sarpy County, United States Department of Agriculture and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a couple of individuals interested in the place, and a representative from office of Senator Benjamin Nelson./P>

Attendees at meeting to discuss conservation of green-space at the Platte River confluence.

It was a meeting essential to determine the situation at the site and what it will look like years from now.

The meeting was hosted by the NRD at their office at Wehrspan Lake and they deserve accolades for making it happen.

Primary topics discussed, based upon an agenda issued before the meeting via email, were:

  1. potential levee setback, its reasons and rationale, and how it might influence down-river navigation on the Missouri River;
  2. site contamination issues, which comprised a large portion of the meeting's discussion;
  3. reasons and rationale for conserving the confluence area as a public resource because of its aesthetic, cultural, historic and wildlife significance now, and into the future.

It was certainly a pointed discussion, and once the opportunity to talk spread among the entire group, it was even livelier. Considering the number 1 issue expressed by a single man, it was somewhat obvious that a large majority, if not each person in the room, agreed upon the importance of conserving the green space at this place, based upon the confines denoted upon a map image shown upon the east wall of the room.

The meeting was about details. For the Army Corps of Engineers, any acquisition of the site is not a priority, due concerns agency staff have previously indicated.

It then became apparent that any effort to acquire the property should depend upon other sources, according to a common consensus. There are a number of optional opportunities, but any actual efforts are not known.

Based upon the overall consensus, there is a some hope that the setting will continue to be a space which the public could enjoy soon ... or at least during future years of bird-watching or other outdoor endeavors.

Nearby this site, the NRD has requested funds from the Nebraska Environmental Trust to buy properties at the former Iske Place, and convert the wooded area along the river into a green-space. The land was inundated during the Flood of 2011, and a common theme of discussion was about how the current owner would indicate a value for land subject to massive flooding.

06 December 2012

Natural Values Linger at Relict Creek in Omaha

A bit of a creek still steadily flowing within the confines of urban Omaha has gotten little or no respect from the owners of property where it occurs.

The short length of waterway is one of the last, few places within the city environs where a naturalistic creek flows among a woodland setting. This particular creek is now, in the modern-era, mostly within the Westlawn-Hillcrest Memorial Park, or cemetery.

Immense changes are pending. The City of Omaha has finalized plans to alter the setting in conjunction with efforts to address sewer- and storm-water runoff. Their proposal includes particular changes at this unnamed tributary of the former Saddle Creek, into which this tributary flowed. Basics of the plan propose building two berm across the creek to divert storm-water into basins that will be built on the lowland terraces upon the creek's east side. The basins will hold the runoff for slow release into the drainage basin to revise the current situation where there is a combined sewer-storm water situation during times when there is a lot of runoff, resulting from precipitation events.

Detention ponds plan for the creek on the east side of Westlawn-Hillcrest Memorial Park. Image courtesy of the Public Works department, City of Omaha.

City officials have requested supportive funding for the wetland basin portion of the project from the Nebraska Environmental Trust.

Because the effort would include placing fill upon a Nebraska wetland feature, a permit is required from the Corps of Engineers. This permit has not yet been issued.

Several attempts to learn the details associated with the permit application have not been successful. City of Omaha officials will not provide any information, indicating that they would only provide specifics once a permit was issued. A Corps of Engineers official said specifics might only be provided following a Freedom of Information Act request.

The application is from a public entity, to another public entity, yet neither of them will divulge details. At another recent meeting a City of Omaha official, well aware of the situation indicated that a conversation could occur about this, yet a week later, there nothing more said, via phone, and more particularly, email.

Creek Historics

A creek among rolling prairie amidst the hills westward of the Missouri River was denoted by government-hired land surveyors in the 1850s. This creek, historically, was indicated in the survey notes as being within sections 30 and 31, Township 15 North, Range 13 East. There is a map which shows it place among the land features.

Notes by the surveyors indicate a hollow with ponds along the boundary of section 30 and 31, with its course to the northwest. While along the line between section 30 and 31, an unnamed stream was denoted. Specific species of trees within the local area were oak, walnut, ash, elm and hickory. It was generally described as consisting of "high, rolling prairie lands with some groves of oak and other trees interspersed." There was a plowed field present along the east side of the denoted creek alignment.

The government land-office survey was done during June 1856.

Among the details expressed by the government workers, was a mention in the surveyor's field book of "saddle creek" and the hand-written details indicating its particular, measured width.

View of the creek on the east side of the memorial park. December 2, 2012.

West Omaha

As the City of Omaha expanded westward from the bluffs near the Missouri River, the nature of the setting underwent dramatic changes.

The nearby historic Westlawn rail-transit station was a name taken for a nearby large cemetery. The West Lawn Cemetery had it first burials in 1910, according to historic details. The place was an expanse of many acres, originally mapped amidst west Omaha, prominent southward of Saddle Creek, and then south of Center Street. There is also the Bohemian Cemetery, with its open space.

Saddle Creek became the name for a primary street thoroughfare, as this waterway was buried beneath concrete and other urban constructions which continually and dramatically diminished and nearly completely obliterated any natural features of the landscape.

Area of woodlands were storm-water catchment basins will be constructed. December 2, 2012.

Another area of woodlands were storm-water catchment basins will be constructed, and just southward of the adjacent picture.

This situation was ongoing during each and every subsequent decade. The unnamed creek, which was once among hills covered with prairie grass during historic times, has become a dumping ground.

Dirt from burials has been placed continually for many decades, upon its west bank, with thousands of cubic yards present. Along the creek, there are piles of tree trunks and branches, as well as some head-stones from burials caught among the debris. There are many discarded vehicle tires upon the creek banks. At another spot, a jacuzzi lies upside down and forgotten, now nothing but a big bit of worthlessness. Leaves are dumped into the channel at its southern extent. Other rubble is present along the creek and its adjoining woods which goes from an outlet at its south end, and after its short distance among the environment, goes back into an underground inlet on the north end near Center Street, where Saddle Creek once flowed.

As this creek still lingers within its historic confines, there is suitably wild habitat for various sorts of wild birds. Especially appreciated there lately have been wrens.

In late November there was a Carolina Wren vividly seen, and surprisingly a few minutes after a comment was made that the setting seemed proper for this species. Another sort of wren might have been about, but an accomplice had no interest in looking.

Early in December — due to a particular effort of individual discovery — a Winter Wren was heard, because this setting of water and woodland is the place which this feathered mite prefers. It was seen on a Sunday morning, during an outing to particularly denote the birdlife along the flowing creek, which is especially important because its flow of water attracts birds, that congregate and especially bathe on warm days during the winter months.

Into the Future

This creek-scape creek deserves conservation attention and consideration. The disposal of dumped dirt — for decades — along its edges is detrimental, and with any sort of slump, would completely bury the creek. The trash and tires, along with other assorted discards should be dealt with, through a community effort. Fallen trees are prevalent in the hollow, and though not artificial, need to be dealt with in a limited manner to avoid further degradation of creek channel.

This creek, apparently first known during 1856, deserves care and rehabilitation. The historic setting of trees and water — which was once a place of prairie grass and fresh water — can be appreciated rather than treated with apparent disregard.

Leaves dumped into the creek by property owners east of the memorial park.

05 December 2012

Iowans Encroach on Nebraska Property at Carter Lake

Property owners in Iowa have encroached upon Nebraska land along the shore of Carter Lake.

The extent of Nebraska includes a portion of the shoreline which abuts the City of Carter Lake, where adjacent property owners have built features on property which is not within the state of Iowa, as indicated by maps provided by county assessors for Douglas County, Nebraska and Pottawattamie County, Iowa.

For much of the extent of Carter Lake, a Missouri River oxbow lake created during a big flood of 1877, the state-line is within the water area of the lake, but in its eastern extent, there is a fringe of land on the west side of the lake area which is within Nebraska, based upon details as indicated by maps available at the websites of the county assessors for Douglas County, Nebraska and Pottawattamie County, Iowa.

There are two particular, known instances where City of Carter Lake property owners have encroached upon the lake shore, onto property which they do not own, based upon parcel ownership indicated by the Douglas County assessor.

At one site, two docks were built and a wall constructed along the edge of the lake, to the west of the big pier in Levi Carter Park. A bit of a distance to the south, another extensive project using lots of rock rip-rap was dumped to stabilize the bank and create a private expanse of lawn. Further southward, an eastern fringe of the Iowa West Ranch, is also indicated as being Nebraska land.

East Carter Lake Iowa, showing property parcels and the county line.

Southeast Levi Carter Park, showing the Douglas county parcel boundary, and the Nebraska state line.

These encroachments occurred years ago...

There is a lengthy extent of the lake-side which is apparently public property, owned by the City of Omaha, according to details conveyed by the Douglas County assessor GIS-map available online. The space is indicated as being a part of Levi Carter Park.

Property ownership has obviously not been considered, based upon land-owner action and related actions, or inaction from another perspective.

A boundary between Nebraska and Iowa based upon the twists and turns of the Missouri River have been distinctive in many places along the rivers way. The situation at Carter Lake is another example of encroachment and ignorance.

The City of Omaha should establish ownership of this lake-side property, for many reasons. One essential rationale is that private constructs should not be allowed on public property. Also, public ownership would be useful for protecting the area as green space along the lake.

Private docks on City of Omaha property at Carter Lake. The docks and wall should be removed and the site restored and reconnected to the lake waters.

01 December 2012

Adams Park and Stormwater Planning Meeting

Changes are coming to Adams Park and the local neighborhood, as presented by Omaha officials and hired consultants at a public meeting on November 29th.

A "final" version of master plan for Adams Park was presented. It has a stated goal to "look for unique programming and amenities" to make the park "a valuable asset to the community" and a "catalyst for neighborhood revitalization and development."

Concerns now are that much of the park is "hidden" since it is not visible from the street, and that since parts of the park were not "accessible by walking paths," they were not used.

Key potential components mentioned include:

  • expanding the park east to 30th street at its northeast corner, and south to Maple Street on its southern extent;
  • construction of interior roads;
  • widening of Creighton Boulevard;
  • construction of an urban farming and community gardening center;
  • constructing ten picnic pavilions; and
  • adding a "whole series" of walking paths, that would have an overall length of 4.25 miles within the 60-acre park.

Additional changes are indicated in the master plan graphic, originally prepared a year ago.

There were differences between the plan as prepared by the Parks department, and a revised storm-water wetland plan as proposed for the CSO! project, as both were explained at the meeting. Another example, a proposed site for a picnic-pavilion would be within the storm-water wetland.

Two other proposals for Adams Park are also available and referenced during the question and answer period following presentations by project officials. Each proposal is different, which raised questions by attendees.

A plan presented at a design review meeting "is very conceptual at this point," according to a planner with the Omaha Parks Recreation and Public Property. Further meetings would be held on the park plan as the "master plan" is further evaluated in the future, the planner said.

CSO! Project

The current CSO! proposal was the most recent indication of plans for the western portion of the park, and was the primary local topic, other than a general overview of the ongoing effort to separate sewer and storm-water in eastern Omaha.

Significant changes in the park, include:

1) Removal of the Gabrielle Union Pond, and replacing it with an area of turf-grass and where there was no indication of a replacement for the "landmark" built in 2000 in honor the Omaha-born actress;
2) Construction of basins to hold storm-water runoff, which will have four zones: water, wetland, wet meadow and lowland. The basins will start at the south end of the park, and extend across its western portion to where it will be deepest in the its northwest corner, where the ball-field is currently. The sole source of water will be storm-water runoff, as there are no plans to provide supplemental water, according to CSO! engineers.
3) Construction of "straight" 36th street, across the west edge of the park, along the power-line corridor. A previous proposal indicated a "curved" alignment.

Proposed storm-water wetland at the western section of Adams Park. Image courtesy of Omaha Public Works.

Few details on the physical characteristics of the wetlands were given — i.e., expected water depth or basin size — with the focus on how the site will be a "community amenity." A depiction was available to convey a view of the potential, idealized setting, with its "sunny" perspective.

Depiction of storm-water wetland setting at the western section of Adams Park.

Nothing was said regarding how the Gabrielle Union Pond, which is now a prominent feature in the park-scape, will continue. The proposed plan indicates the site will become a field of turf.

The CSO! project in this area, other than the storm-water basins in the park, will primarily involve a newly constructed pipe conveyance system to carry water from the basin into the park, and then further northward. Two large map-graphics of the area and proposed constructs overlain on aerial photography of the neighborhood, were available for review, indicating its massive extent.

After the public discourse, additional commentary occurred. There was a positive response to views. However, there was little interest shown in including other measures such as bioretention gardens, including potentially at Franklin Elementary School and Erskine Park or private property which is currently vacant. Project engineers also seemed indifferent to potential options to reduce runoff by removing unused areas of concrete at Erskine Park, or efforts to converse woodland tracts in the vicinity which are helpful in allowing water to infiltrate into the soil, rather than being runoff.

The meeting was an opportunity for public comment both in a group and one-on-one manner. Towards the end of the evening city officials did, personally, shorten a conversation by indicating that comments should be submitted in writing, rather than being discussed at the time.

The John Creighton Boulevard and Miami Sewer Separation Project is currently at a 30% stage of planning. An update meeting on the area CSO! project is expected in mid- to late-2013.

About 20 people and a similar number of officials were present at the meeting held at the Malcom X Center, north of Adams Park. It was scheduled for 6:30 to 7:30 P.M., but lasted at least an additional 30 minutes.