Pioneers Park Nature Center is a city-owned resource that offers people of all ages multiple opportunities for outdoor observation, learning, and fun.
Guided Nature Hikes
A leader in nature exploration and education, the Nature Center offers outdoor experiences and education that supplements and complements classroom learning.
The Nature Center offers an engaging selection of hands-on outdoor and outreach experiences for students, designed to enhance the classroom curriculum and support Nebraska Science Standards.
Our trained educators strive to develop awareness, appreciation, and curiosity about our unique Nebraska natural heritage by involving students in programs that are fun, concept-oriented, and that allow ample opportunity for personal discovery. Our staff looks forward to sharing the wonders of nature with you and your students.
Beginning in the fall of 2008, all Lincoln Public School 4th graders have had the opportunity to spend a full day in a tallgrass prairie. The Prairie Immersion program is a cooperative venture of Lincoln Public School, Pioneers Park Nature Center and Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center.
During Prairie Immersion at the Nature Center, students investigate insect biodiversity, study prairie plants, visit the Hudson cabin built in 1863, and learn about the importance of bison and plant diversity to the Plains Indians. This experience correlates with science and social studies curricula, giving a new and meaningful extension to the classroom study of the prairie.
School programming at Pioneers Park Nature Center is supported by the Friends of Pioneers Park Nature Center and the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District.
Excerpts from student journals
The crickets are squeaking
The prairie is cold
The spiders are crawling
The prairie is quiet
The best place ever
-Student from Calvert Elementary
You can hear the bugs talking
Feel the wind in your hair
Tall grass crowded around you.
-Student from Calvert Elementary
I look at the grass taller than me. If you sit down the little leaves tickle your back.
-Student from Maxey Elementary
Prairie feels like:
Itchy, rough, sticky, a whole new world.
Prairie sounds like:
Cracking leaves and rustling grass
Wind blowing; swishy
A buggy place
One special thing about prairie:
It is quiet and peaceful.
Nature Center educators can bring a variety of programs to groups of any age. Programming including live animals, hands-on activities, or themed presentations such as the tall grass prairie or herbs. Programs are limited to the Lincoln area.Virtual programs are also available for groups or schools.
Call 402-441-7895 for more information, pricing, or to schedule a program.
Pioneers Park Nature Center is dedicated to providing a place for the public to experience, observe and gain information about the plants and animals of Nebraska. This goal is supported by the land with its varied habitats, exhibits, brochures, informational articles that appear in various publications, and our programs.
The Nature Center cares for a variety of animals. Indoor and outdoor animal exhibits provide the visitor with an up-close look at many native Nebraska animals. All of the raptors on exhibit are non-releasable because of injuries they have sustained before they arrived at the Nature Center.
Nature Center Guides and Educator Resources
The Nature Center is a popular destination, with nearly 100,000 visitors annually. If you are coming to explore on your own or with a group, here are some guidelines that will help make your visit enjoyable while also maintaining a peaceful retreat for others.
The Nature Center maintains more than 8 miles of hiking trails to explore! Trails wind through woodland, wetland, riparian, and tallgrass prairie habitats. The Nature Center is home to hundreds of species of plants, birds, mammals, insects, and many other kinds of natural life. Trail guides and species checklists are available at the Prairie and Chet Ager Buildings.
Educational exhibits are open to the public in the Prairie or Chet Ager Buildings. Groups larger than 25 people should split up and stagger their times in these buildings. Other buildings at the Nature Center are closed to the public, but are used for programming throughout the year, especially during the school year. Steer clear of the Lynn Johnson Nature Education Building and the Cunningham One-Room Schoolhouse if you are on a self-guided visit.
Items in the Prairie Building Gift Shop are for purchase only, please handle items with care. Unsupervised children will be asked to leave.
Transportation & Parking
The Nature Center is the western half of Pioneers Park. Enter the Park at 3201 S. Coddington Ave. or 2801 W. Van Dorn St. then follow the signs west about 1.5 miles. The best place to park is just inside the entrance to the Nature Center. Additional parking is available along the loop road west of the Prairie Building. For busses and other oversized vehicles, continue past the parking lot and up the hill to park on the loop road.
Cost of Admission
Every group of visitors, no matter how careful they are, makes some impact on the Nature Center. Admission is free, but we ask for donations so we can maintain the buildings and grounds for all visitors. We recommend $3 for individuals, $5 for families, and $20 for classroom-sized groups.
Nature Center Rules
- No pets are allowed beyond the parking lot of the Nature Center.
- Bicycles are allowed only on the loop road of the Nature Center or the crushed limestone Prairie Corridor Trail on our southern boundary.
- No picking or collecting of any natural materials (flowers, insects, rocks, etc.) is allowed. On the other hand, feel free to collect litter and trash you may find!
- Teasing, chasing or attempting to catch any animals is prohibited under Lincoln City Ordinance 12.08.220. We also ask that you refrain from feeding animals within the Nature Center.
- Never cross a fence or a closed gate within the Nature Center. Doing so is criminal trespass under Lincoln City Ordinance 12.08.070.
- Apply sunscreen and insect repellent in parking areas only.
Virtual Field Trip
Prairie Immersion Series
Nature Center Signs
The gentle giant.
Bison, also called buffalo, often look calm and majestic while spending most of their time grazing. However, bison weighing between 1,000 and 2,000 lbs. and standing around 6 feet tall, can run fast and jump up to 6 feet high from a standing position. These animals are well-adapted to life on the prairie. Their shaggy coats keep them warm in the winters and transport prairie seeds when they roll on the ground or shed their fur. Their frequent grazing, roaming, and dust baths also help shape the landscape by creating bare ground where different prairie plants and animals may live.
Home sweet home.
Living, dying and even dead trees provide diverse habitat for many animals including owls. The most common owls at the Nature Center are barred owls, great horned owls, and screech owls, all found in wooded areas. Active mostly at night, and with excellent camouflage, owls can be hard to spot. Look for tree cavities where an owl might be sheltered, or in a stick nest. Clues that an owl might be near are owl pellets on the ground or white mutes (owl droppings) on tree branches and vegetation.
Nature Center Wetlands
Sometimes wet, sometimes dry.
The wetlands at the Nature Center were constructed in the 1930’s. Filled by rain and runoff from surrounding areas, wetlands help protect water quality by filtering water, reducing flooding, and decreasing erosion. During long periods without precipitation, the ponds may dry up completely. If you look along the wetland’s edge, you may find the tracks of heron and racoons or even a mink, opossum, or coyote. These and other animals come to the wetlands to feed on frogs, fish, crayfish, insects, and other aquatic life. Watch quietly, you may see animals moving along the bank or in the water.
A habitat for birds and other wildlife.
Salt left behind from an ancient inland sea and seepage of saline groundwater over time has created saline wetlands in eastern Nebraska. Like other wetlands, this ecosystem is important to insects, birds, and other wildlife. Some plants do not grow well in the saline soils but others, such as inland saltgrass, are found here. Small insects found in the water such as mosquito larva, dragonfly nymphs and water striders are known as macroinvertebrates. They are an important food source for birds, amphibians, fish, and turtles.
Ducks and Geese
Where there is water there are birds.
Scan the water and look for birds, wadding, swimming, and feeding in and near the water. Whether migrating and briefly stopping over, breeding, or overwintering ducks and geese utilize wetland resources including protective cover, food, and water. Common species include Canada geese, mallards, wood ducks, blue-winged teal, and northern shovelers. In the spring and summer many ducks and geese nest and raise their young in the wetland. The young will learn to forage and survive on their own. Birds will overwinter where there is open water and food.
Frogs and Toads
A sure sign of spring is hearing frogs calling after spending the winter burrowed in the ground or at the bottom of a pond. The longer warmer days allow amphibians to become once again active. Through the summer and into the fall many aquatic frogs like bullfrogs and cricket frogs can be spotted on the water’s edge. Toads and tree frogs are found on land. Frogs and toads sit and wait for prey to fly by. Their large eyes and quick reflexes are necessary to capture fast moving insects.
Coyote and Red Fox
All in the canine family.
Found throughout eastern Nebraska, members of the canine (dog) family, coyote and fox are adapted to rural and urban environments. Mammals are the main food source for both coyote and fox. They also eat birds, insects, fruit, or scavenge for dead animals and food scraps. Humans can co-exist with these predators by securing pets, garbage, and compost piles. Look for coyote and fox droppings and tracks along trails and wet areas. Droppings and urine can be left to mark territory. Their ranges vary in size based on food and resource availability.
Racoon, Mink, and Muskrat
Active near water and woodlands.
Racoon, mink, and muskrats are a few of the small to medium size mammals found near wetland, stream, and woodland habitats. Muskrats will make their homes in the banks of a pond or build lodges in a wetland. Racoons seek shelter in tree cavities and mink use dens in the ground. Typically nocturnal, all three species become most active after dark when looking for food. Mink are carnivores, they eat crayfish, frogs, rodents and more. Racoon and muskrats are omnivores however, muskrats mainly eat plants and racoons have a flexible diet.
Listen and look for birds in all seasons.
A wide variety of birds can be observed at the Nature Center. Take note of bird color, size, behavior, habitat, and location such as on the ground, at the top of a tree or along water. Take a closer look. What markings do you see? Are there patterns on the wings, back or breast? What other colors are the feathers, beaks, eyes, or legs? Listen for songs, pecking, flapping or other movement. Look for bird evidence like nests, holes in trees or tracks. Birds can look, sound or act differently depending on the season or time of day. Make observations often and you will learn all about these interesting animals.
Moles and Groundhogs
Moles are small mammals that live most of their lives underground. They will create shallow tunnels just beneath the surface when searching for food. Moles eat insects and insect larvae, worms, snails, and some plants. To find mole tunnels, look for small ridges of raised up earth on woodland trails. Groundhogs are herbivores, they are active during the day searching for grasses and plants to eat. They dig deep burrows and networks of underground tunnels. Burrow entrances are about 10–12 inches wide found in often in woodlands and sometimes under buildings or sheds.