The Lincoln Saline Wetlands complex is comprised of the Whitehead Saline Wetlands, Arbor Lake, Frank Shoemaker Marsh, and the adjacent Little Salt Creek. These areas are part of a regionally unique wetland type that occurs in swales and depressions essentially limited to the floodplains of Salt Creek and its tributaries in Lancaster and southern Saunders counties. There are cattail marshes, associated uplands, and a small, meandering creek.
There is no bird checklist for the area, but over the past century more than 230 bird species have been reported at the salt basins of Lancaster County. The wetlands attract a wide variety of waterbirds and waterfowl, while the exposed mudflats are rich in invertebrates that attract large numbers of migrating shorebirds. The surrounding uplands support several species of concern like Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Red-headed Woodpecker, Loggerhead Shrike, Dickcissel, Bobolink, and Grasshopper Sparrow.
Because the entire Eastern saline wetland complex is located in and near the city of Lincoln, past losses have been severe, and future threats from development activities are imminent. Commercial or residential development is considered to be the greatest threat, as it usually results in total wetland destruction and the loss of all related functions. In addition, one of the most serious long-term threats is the degradation (deepening) of stream channels that result in erosive lateral headcuts (gullies) that eventually drain wetlands, and could lead to locally declining water tables.
Arbor Lake and Shoemaker Marsh are owned and operated by the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department of Lincoln, Nebraska. Whitehead Saline Wetlands is owned and managed by the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District based in Lincoln.
These saline wetlands are characterized by saline soils and salt-tolerant vegetation. Open water areas contain cattails and are surrounded by upland grasslands with a mixture of shrubs and trees. A riparian corridor of cottonwood/elm/hackberry exists along Salt Creek.
Although all the properties are public (with the exception of Salt Creek), there are currently no trails, buildings, or other built structures of any kind, save for a parking lot and short boardwalk at Arbor Lake. Nebraska's saline wetlands are the most limited and endangered wetland type and vegetation community in the state and are considered critically imperiled. Less than 20% of the pre-existing landmass remains and much of this is degraded. The wetlands provide habitat for a variety of native plant and animal species that depend on a saline environment. The state endangered Salt Creek tiger beetle is found nowhere else in the world. In addition, three rare plants are found nowhere else in Nebraska: saltmarsh aster, Texas dropseed, and saltwort, this last plant was recently added to the state's endangered species list.