Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center was purchased by the National Audubon Society in 1998. The 808-acre site encompasses nearly 650 acres of native tallgrass prairie, along with bur oak woodlands, wetlands, ponds, and historic trail ruts from the Nebraska City-Fort Kearny Cutoff to the Oregon Trail. Miles of hiking trails throughout the site allow visitors to enjoy the grasses and wildflowers, birds and other wildlife, and scenic vistas. School and family educational programs are offered year-round.

The center is open to the public weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and weekends 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. throughout the year except holidays.

Contact information: 11700 SW 100 Street, P.O. Box 117, Denton, NE 68339; 402/797-2301, 797-2304 (fax); ; .

Ornithological Summary

As of May 2006, 197 bird species have been identified at Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, 70 of which have been observed on breeding bird surveys. Because the Center encompasses one of the largest remaining native tallgrass prairie tracts in Nebraska, it attracts a wide variety of grassland-dependent birds. It hosts what may be the last viable population of Greater Prairie-Chickens in Lancaster County. Breeding grassland birds include Grasshoppper Sparrow, Dickcissel, Henslow's Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Bobolink, Eastern and Western Meadowlarks, and Upland Sandpiper. Bell's Vireos nest in scattered shrub areas, and the riparian zone along Spring Creek supports nesting Red-headed Woodpeckers, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, and Baltimore and Orchard Orioles. Sprague's Pipits are consistently found during spring and fall migration along the ridgeline dividing the property. Harris's Sparrows are common winter visitors.

Conservation Issues

Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center is 20 minutes from Lincoln, the state's capital. The spread of acreages and housing developments from Lincoln toward the Center is rapid and increasing. A plan to expand an existing motocross track within two miles of the Center was defeated by local government, but it can still operate as a family activity. High numbers of brown-headed cowbirds threaten overall success of nesting species. A few feral cats have been spotted on site, but they are not considered a problem.

Non-native plants make up about 30 percent of the species identified to date. Most are controllable through fire and grazing management. Musk thistles and honey locust trees are actively suppressed through removal and limited chemical treatments. A small population of leafy spurge has been contained.

As the Center's popularity increases, foot traffic will rise accordingly. Most visitors will likely not travel far from the education building and will concentrate their walking to a short (half-mile) trail that leaves the building and loops through the prairie, around a wetland, and to the historic wagon ruts. To keep overall impact to a minimum, the outskirts of the property will be kept free of trails, and trails will be closed in areas of known grassland bird nesting during breeding season.

Ownership

The National Audubon Society purchased a 640-acre property southwest of Lincoln in 1998 and renamed it Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center. It is a tallgrass prairie sanctuary focusing on public education and restoration of tallgrass prairie, one of the country's most threatened ecosystems.

Habitat

The site was used as a private residence and cattle ranch over the past century. Its rolling hills and glacier rocks made row cropping not feasible, so three-fourths of the site remains unbroken tallgrass prairie. Spring Creek runs through the property, and the previous owner put in six ponds as water sources for the cattle. Cattle still graze the hills today as a prairie management tool. A 50-acre cropfield exists on the southeast corner, and there are several abandoned alfalfa fields adjacent to the creek. The property also has a farmhouse, small parking area, and storage shed.

Land Use

Most of the grassland available is used to graze cattle, except for small areas near the ranchhouse where visitor traffic is highest. Various crops are raised on the cropland, such as corn and soybeans. As an Audubon Center, the whole property is open to the public for outdoor pursuits. Horseback riding is allowed, but no vehicles (bikes, motorcycles, skateboards, etc.) can be taken on the trails.

Local colleges and universities have taken advantage of the unbroken prairie for research. Studies on songbird predation of insects and chemical application on forbs have been completed. A biologist has banded birds on several occasions.

Education is an important component of the Center's mission. Family programs are held monthly on a wide variety of topics. Students ranging from kindergarten through college have visited on field trips and taken part in activities led by trained staff and volunteer educators. An annual prairie festival attracts hundreds of guests for an evening of hikes, presentations, and hands-on explorations.

Ruts from the Nebraska City-Fort Kearny Cutoff to the Oregon Trail can still be seen in several areas at the Center. The road was active in the mid 1800's as a freight line to western forts.

Stay abreast of Audubon

Our email newsletter shares the latest programs and initiatives.