Pioneers Park Nature Center


FUNdamental to Environmental Quality and Youth Development

Visit Pioneers Park Nature Center to explore 668 acres of tallgrass prairie, woodlands, wetlands and a tributary stream of Salt Creek. Since 1963 the Nature Center has served the Lincoln area as an environmental education center and wildlife sanctuary. More than ten miles of hiking trails wind through various habitats and take visitors past non-releasable raptor exhibits and a small herd of bison.

Visitor Information

The Nature Center is a great place for people of any age to visit during all seasons. Come walk the trails through prairie or woods, observe animals on exhibit, watch and listen to the birds in our bird garden, relax on a quiet wayside bench, treat your senses to the herb garden, dig in the natural play area, or learn from our exhibits.

Looking to join a class, day camp, or guided hike? Peruse our current offerings in the Parks & Recreation Program Guide and then call 402-441-7895 to sign up, or enroll online with your Interlinc account. 

A profile of a bison's face.

Two interpretive buildings house hands-on exhibits and a variety of small animals. The Edna Shields Natural Play Area for Children provides a place for kids to dig, build and climb. A variety of themed gardens with labeled specimens are beautiful and diverse. Year-round programming includes a preschool, nature day camps, school hikes, scout badge work, birthday parties, special events and a variety of classes for all ages.

Mission and History of Pioneers Park Nature Center

Our Mission

The mission of Pioneers Park Nature Center 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.

History of Pioneers Park Nature Center

Pioneers Park Nature Center (PPNC) is owned and operated by the City of Lincoln’s Parks and Recreation Department. The Nature Center was dedicated on May 21st, 1963 as Chet Ager Bird and Wildlife Nature Study Center.  

Located within Lincoln’s Pioneers Park, this area was originally set aside as a 40-acre wildlife sanctuary with one paid naturalist to lead tours. Presently, PPNC includes two interpretive facilities, 668 acres of woodland, wetland, and prairie habitats, and over eight miles of trails. Trained volunteers and staff lead natural history interpretive programs for more than 12,000 students, youth groups and families annually.

LPR-PPNC-prairie6.jpgIn the 1930’s, three small ponds were dug on the land that would become the Nature Center with the hope they would be a waterfowl refuge. The largest of these, Heron Pond, dried up in the drought years of 2002–05 and was dredged in 2005 awaiting returning rains.

Sixteen acres of formerly farmed city property were acquired in 1975 across Haines Branch Creek and were joined to the original acres with a suspension bridge.

In 1984 a long-range plan was developed calling for the restoration of wetland, woodland, and prairie habitats with native plants, and for developing exhibits that would interpret native wildlife and regional ecology. The original long-range plan was updated in 1995 and again in 2001.

In 1985, an additional 80 acres were added to the Nature Center as the result of a study that eliminated the existing outdoor zoo. Exotic animals were traded or sold and new exhibits of native fox, wild turkey, bison, American elk, and white-tailed deer were completed.

The Chet Ager Building was built in 1963. A second interpretive facility, the Prairie Building, is located across the park road to the north, adjacent to a restored tallgrass prairieThe Chet Ager building is nestled among the trees and wetland areas.. The Prairie Building was constructed in three phases. The Education Wing, completed in 1990; the Malinovskis Auditorium, completed in 1997; and the exhibit/office wing, incorporating many green building features, completed in 2007. The green building features found in the Prairie Building include straw-bale construction, geo-thermal heating and air conditioning, the use of recycled and low VOC materials and a green roof. The Prairie Building addition was the first building in Lincoln to be awarded LEED Certification. 

The Nature Center acquired 56 acres in 1996 as a donation from the Robert Powell family, neighboring property owners. It was named the “Verley Prairie” in honor of Robert’s uncle Ben Verley. From David and Bonnie Martin, neighboring property owners west of the Nature Center, we acquired, through donation and purchase, 157 acres of pastureland in the fall of 1997. Located north of the Hands-on Prairie, it is known as the “Martin Prairie” and extends all the way to W. Van Dorn St. In March of 1999, we purchased an additional 80 acres from the Martin family. This land lies west of the Animal Hospital and is known as the Hilltop Prairie. In 2005, 228 acres were added to the Martin Prairie extending it to West Van Dorn and SW 56th St. This purchase was made possible with the cooperation of several partners.


Interpretive Buildings, Gardens, and Facilities

Modern Buildings

Chet Ager Building


Exhibits in the Chet Ager Building provide information about wetlands and woodlands, including saline wetlands found in eastern Nebraska. Large windows overlook Heron Pond and a garden with plantings, feeders, and water features that attract a wide variety of birds. The Louise Evans Doole Herb Garden and Children’s Garden are nearby.

Prairie Building

Plants and animals of the Great Plains and prairie ecosystems are highlighted in exhibits at the Prairie Building. The building includes many green building(PDF, 66KB) features including straw-bale construction, geo-thermal heating and air conditioning, the use of recycled and low VOC materials and a green roof. It was the first building in Lincoln to be awarded LEED certification. The building is surrounded by prairie plants, including a labeled demonstration garden area. prairiebuilding.jpg

The Prairie Building contains:

  • More than one thousand square feet of exhibit space, including live animals
  • Public restrooms and drinking fountain
  • Nature Preschool classrooms
  • Nature Center administration offices
  • Gift Shop with snacks and a wide variety of nature-related items including books, note cards, field guides, and toys
  • Malinovskis Auditorium (rentable space)
Malinovskis Auditorium

The natural setting of this flexible meeting room makes it a unique and peaceful rental space overlooking a pond and prairie. Ideal for business or club meetings, events, lectures, training seminars, workshops, retreats, birthdays and anniversaries, the room provides auditorium-style seating for 80, or for 60 at tables. Tables, chairs, sound and video equipment are included, as well as a kitchenette and coffee urns to make it easy for you to provide refreshments. Two doors lead to a large deck for additional space and views, steps away from the prairie trailhead. To make a reservation, call 402-441-7895.

Lynn Johnson Nature Education Building

The Education Building, built in 2020, provides a learning lab for students and program participants to engage with the outdoors. The Lincoln Parks Foundation helped to secure funding for this project. Contributors include the Thelma and Hugo Aspegren Trust and the Mildred Barret estate. This building is not open to the public.

Historic Buildings

Cunningham School

HeritageSchool.jpgThe Cunningham School, Saunders County District 113 was originally located 7 miles north and 2 miles west of Valparaiso, Nebraska. It was first built in the 1800’s. It was destroyed by fire and replaced by this building in the 1930’s. The coat room and supply room were later additions. The school was retired from use in 1968 and purchased from Adolph Klimert in 1975 by the State Fair Board for use in the Heritage Village. It was moved to the Nature Center on November 1st, 2009.

During the school year, area 4th-grade school children experience history as they spend a school day as they might have in the late 1800’s. Standing on a hill at the edge of the Martin Prairie, the school is open to the public only during special events.

Hudson Cabin

HudsonCabin.jpg“Thomas Jefferson Hudson was born in 1826 in Indiana. After several westerly moves, he rented an Otoe County farm in 1861. Two years later the Hudsons acquired a quarter section of land, through the Homestead Act, south of the village of Lancaster. On his arrival he noted that his only true neighbors were living in two dugouts on Salt Creek. Oak logs were hauled in from near Germantown (now Garland, NE) in the fall of 1863, milled flooring lumber came from Nebraska City, and the almost-unheard-of luxury of wood shingles came from McKisick’s Island east of the Missouri River northeast of Peru, Nebraska. 

The cabin was noted as being the “largest and grandest house, and the only shingled roof, upon the whole site of [Lancaster] out on Salt Creek.”

The Village of Lancaster became the City of Lincoln, and the homestead became part of the Irvingdale neighborhood on South 10th Street. Over time the cabin was enlarged and built upon, concealing its nature behind more modern construction. In LPR-PPNC-prairie3.jpg 1964 the “buried” cabin was discovered during a remodeling project. Lincoln Mayor Dean Peterson "saved it” by purchasing it for $5,000. The Junior Chamber of Commerce set out to raise funds to reconstruct it inside a new structure in Van Dorn Park, but the plan failed. The cabin was disassembled and stored in a warehouse until 1974, when the Lincoln Parks Department transferred title to the Nebraska Historical Society. With the aid of funds appropriated by the legislature, the cabin was reconstructed as part of Heritage Village on the fairgrounds.”
- Jim McKee, Lincoln Journal Star, November 2009 

On June 22, 2010, the Hudson Cabin was moved to Pioneers Park Nature Center. It is used during 4th-grade Prairie Immersion hikes to give students a sense of the size of a ‘grand’ log house in the early days of our city – it measures 14 x 16 feet! The cabin is open to the public only during special events. 


The gardens that surround the Prairie Building are designed to help visitors appreciate the beauty and diversity of prairie plants. Many are drought tolerant choices for home gardens. Labels allow identification of plants that can be seen in our prairie.

Louise Evans Doole Herb Garden

Located north of the Chet Ager Building, was established in 1972. Mrs. Doole was an editor of The Nebraska Farmer and author of several books on herbs. sundialbeds.jpgA complete renovation of the garden was undertaken in 2003 using funds from an endowment given by the Doole family, and a Greenspace Initiative Grant administered by the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum. The garden has grown from 16 herbs to a display of over 150, many with identifying labels. Staff and volunteers perform the day-to-day garden maintenance.

Irene and George Alexander Bird Garden

is located west of the Chet Ager Building and was established the spring of 2012. The garden is a bird sanctuary and demonstrative backyard wildlife habitat filled with feeders, a water feature and variety of flowering plants and shrubs. Visitors can view the garden through the windows of the Chet Ager Building or from the bird blind surrounding it. 

The Children’s Garden

A raised-bed vegetable and flower garden that is planted and tended to by children participating in Nature Center programming. In addition to developing their motor skills, they learn about plant life cycles. Everyone, adults and children alike, is welcome to explore and enjoy the plantings.

Other Facilities

Edna Shields Natural Play Area


Come out and play in the dirt, create a masterpiece with sticks and pods, crawl through a log, dig in the sand, build a fort and have some fun! The area is sensory-rich and a treasure trove of experiential learning, imagination and wonder.

Research has found that frequent, unstructured play in natural environments is a strong positive influence on the developmental needs of young children. Benches are available for parents while children spend hours crafting their own activities using natural materials. 

Facility Reservation

The Malinovskis Auditorium

The natural setting of this flexible meeting room makes it a unique and peaceful rental space ideal for business or club meetings, classes, lectures, training seminars, workshops, retreats, birthdays and anniversary parties. The Auditorium affords views of a pond, prairie and pastures where wildlife can often be seen. The Auditorium comfortably seats 80 guests auditorium-style (chairs only) or 60 at tables, in addition to buffet space. You can opt to add the adjacent covered deck to your reservation if you need additional room.


Every rental includes tables, chairs, and use of the kitchenette and audiovisual equipment at no extra charge. The kitchenette is equipped with fridge, freezer, microwave and coffee urns. The Auditorium has public WiFi, microphone, projector and a 14-foot-wide projection screen. The projector connects via HDMI; renter must supply an adaptor. A podium, easel, and flip-chart are also available.


Rental fees start at $60 per hour. Reservations must be made at least two weeks in advance of the desired date. Online reservations are not available for this facility. Call 402-441-7895 to confirm the rate for your event and make a reservation.

City Regulations

No payments or fees may be collected by the Renter unless a Permit to Conduct Business has been granted by the City of Lincoln. All guests and equipment must be out of the Auditorium when the Rental Period ends. Outer doors of the building are locked after 5:00 PM. Alcohol is prohibited. Smoking is prohibited except in the parking lot. Any damage to the facility or its equipment is the responsibility of the renter. State Fire Regulations must be followed. If an activity or individual is deemed out of control or not in accordance with these terms by Nature Center staff, the event will be terminated and no refunds will be issued.

Art at the Nature Center

The Nature Center is home to several pieces of art including steel sculptures, painted murals and a revolving gallery space. 

wetland-panel.jpgFour hand-crafted metal art panels mark the entrance to the Nature Center.  The welcome sign features a bison head, and three tall cor-ten steel structures celebrate the plants and animals of the habitats found within the center: prairie, wetlands and woodlands. They were designed by staff member Janice Wishnow and created by Jake Balcom of Mettle Design.

A steel sculpture featuring three butterflies is placed near the preschool garden.  It was donated by preschool families in memory of a preschool mother, and created by Ron Swanson of Out of Hand Metal Arts.  

Inside the Prairie Building, murals by Mark Marcuson depict fall and early summer prairies and an art wall features changing displays of the work of local artists. 

In 2009, the Nature Center received two pieces of art designed and fabricated by Carl Weiss of Weiss Studios and Gardens, Springfield, Nebraska. A fountain, displayed seasonally, was added to the Louise Evans Doole Herb Garden, donated by the Doole Family Foundation. At the entrance to the Prairie Building, “Curly”, a bison bench, greets visitors. 

In 2015, Prairie Flowers, a bronze statue by George Lundeen, a native Nebraskan, was added on the west side of the auditorium.


Birthday Parties

Add some nature to your birthday with a party at the Nature Center. Nature Center birthday party programming is recommended for school children grades K–6. Select a time and a theme, and contact the Nature Center at least two weeks in advance to make a reservation: 402-441-7895

A party reservation includes:

  • Rental space in the Malinovskis Auditorium for two hours
  • Activities for up to 15 children + 5 adults
  • Guided hike or other nature activity
  • Special gift for the guest of honor
  • Party bags for each child
  • Time for you to have your own activities and refreshments

Available Times

  • Saturdays 10:00 AM–12:00 PM  OR  1:30–3:30 PM
  • Sundays 1:30–3:30 PM

Available Themes

  • Reptiles Rock: Snakes can slither and shed their skins. Turtles tote a shell that is part of their skeleton. We’ll discover lots more neat things about reptiles as we meet them up close and hike to where they might live.
  • Amazing Birds: They fly. They sing. They have beautiful colors. Their beaks and feet tell a story about how they live. We’ll see how many birds we can see and hear as we hike.
  • Marvelous Mammals: Some have horns. Some have antlers. Some have tracks that look almost human. Some dig holes. We’ll hike to find signs of the mammals that live around us and visit the bison.
  • Nature's Scavenger Hunt: What did I find? What animal is it from? What story does it tell? We’ll hide some special things for children to find and reveal all sorts of interesting things about their discoveries.
  • Insect Investigations: They are the most numerous critters on earth. They hop and fly, buzz and whine, live above ground and below. We’ll see how many we can find as we hike around the Nature Center while observing their interesting lives. (This theme is only offered during the summer and fall.)

Volunteer Opportunities

Contact Phone: 402-441-8708 

The Nature Center is greatly assisted and enriched by its volunteers. In return, volunteers meet staff and other volunteers who enjoy nature and who care about the earth and about wildlife.  Volunteer opportunities include: 

Herb Garden 

Help staff care for the herb garden. Workdays include several afternoons in April to clean up the garden, a garden planting party during the 2nd week of May, 8:30 - 10:30 AM sessions on a weekday chosen by the group weekly in late May and June, every other week in July and August, and a garden potting up party in October.   

Prairie Garden 

Help staff care for the prairie gardens. Saturday morning workdays from 8:30 - noon, April through September (need is greater in May through early June, then tapers off later in season). 

Special Events 

The Nature Center sponsors several special events. These could not be presented without volunteer help. They give volunteers an opportunity to give assistance with a one-time-only commitment. Past events include. Wild Adventure Day, Herb Festival, Prairie Jazz Festival, and the Wild Fall Festival.   

On-Call Volunteers 

These volunteers agree to be called when we need help with staff the building, mailings, and other administrative assistance.  

Group Volunteers 

Projects for groups of up to 10 people over the age of 18 are often available. Call to discuss possibilities.  

Eagle Scouts 

Please call to discuss these opportunities.  

Community Service 

Please call to discuss these opportunities

Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteer Application

Commercial Photography in the Park

Lincoln's parks and public gardens have provided beautiful backdrops for generations of family photos. When you or your photographer are taking pictures, we ask that you be mindful of, and minimize disruption to, other park users and garden visitors. Please also take care to avoid damaging any flowers, plantings, turf, or park property.

If your photo shoot is large and/or it could disrupt normal park or public garden operations, you make need to seek a Special Use Permit. If fees for photography services are collected on site, a Permit to Conduct Business may be required. Wedding reservations are available at our wedding designated sites. Please contact 402-441-7847, Ext. 0, or email, for additional information regarding both Special Use Permit and wedding reservations.

Thank you and enjoy those beautiful pictures!

Support the Nature Center

Fund Raising Program Launched

We have been fortunate to be able to provide a dynamic Nature Center that offers free admission and a wide range of programming. This wouldn't be possible without tremendous support from our many partners in the community. Financial support is needed now more than ever to keep the tradition going. The Hugo A. and Thelma Aspegren Charitable Trust and the Lower Platte South NRD have helped fund school hikes. Lincoln Cares along with many other partners helped fund the Heritage School and Hudson Cabin projects, the most recent land purchase, and the green addition to the Prairie Building. 

The Friends of the Nature Center have supported all of these things as well as equipment and art purchases and a scholarship program. The Doole Family Trust has provided an endowment to maintain the Louise Evans Doole Herb Garden. There have been many other generous donors, and we are asking you to consider becoming one of them. You can help by adopting an acredonating to a scholarship fundbuying a brick to Heritage School or a Stepping Stone to the Elk Bridge with an engraved stone. Your participation in a sponsoring a program or garden will continue to make the Nature Center the amazing place it is. More information can be found with Lincoln Parks Foundation.

Friends of Pioneers Park Nature Center

The Friends of Pioneers Park Nature Center is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit with the mission to promote and support the development, programming and operation of the Nature Center. The Friends has contributed to the construction of a new deck on the Prairie Building, and the construction of the Prairie Building and its exhibits.

The proceeds from annual fundraising events and membership dues provide support for school hikes and scholarships for Nature Center camps and preschool.

To learn more about upcoming Friends of Pioneers Park Nature Center events or to get involved visit: or email:   





3201 S. Coddington Ave, Lincoln 68522  View Map

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