Watchable Wildlife Grants help to develop wildlife-viewing and nature-based experiences in Nebraska. The following are a few projects from each year that have been awarded Watchable Wildlife grants.
Lee G. Simmons Wildlife Safari Park
Lee G. Simmons Wildlife Safari Park received funding for their “Night Watch” program. The grant funded the purchase of headlamps, a trail camera, youth waders, and two night scopes with tripods. The Night Watch Program educates approximately 8,000 people per year through a variety of activities. Children enjoyed using the headlamps and night scopes to look for wildlife tracks along a creek. Families enjoyed learning about the technology used to view wildlife at night, like night scopes, acoustic recorders, and the purpose of the red and green lights in headlamps. The photos captured by the trail camera are used for to teach visitors about the behaviors of nocturnal wildlife and how to identify the species. This project was completed in partnership with Lee G. Simmons Wildlife Safari Park and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Viewing Scope at the CCC Tower Trail
Sandhills Prairie Refuge Association
The Sandhills Prairie Refuge Association received funding for a viewing scope at the Civilian Conservation Corps Tower Trail at the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge. The scope is placed on the observation deck, located part of the way up the old fire tower, and looks out over the Sandhills and Hackberry Lake. Visitors can use the scope to enjoy a closer look at wildlife including prairie grouse, deer, turkey, and waterfowl. Along the trail to the tower, visitors can learn about the history, ecology, wildlife and plants of the Sandhills through various educational signs. This project was completed in partnership with the Sandhills Prairie Refuge Association and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Wildlife Encounters Along the KB Trail
Kevin Brown Educator’s Memorial Trail
The Kevin Brown Educator’s Memorial Trail received funding for their project “Wildlife Encounters Along the KB Trail.” The Watchable Wildlife Grant funded materials and labor for three benches along this trail that is dedicated to the memory of an inspiring local teacher in Loup County. Six volunteers in the community helped to prepare the sites, install, and stain the benches. The benches will offer people walking or biking along the trail a place to sit and enjoy wildlife, like deer or birds that are abundant in the wooded corridor of the nearby North Loup River. This project was completed in partnership with the Kevin Brown Educator’s Memorial Trail and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Birding & Pollinator Habitat Development
Brownell Talbot School received funding for their project “Birding and Pollinator Habitat Development.” This project developed habitats for birds and pollinators on the school’s property adjacent to Memorial Park. Nonnative trees were removed and replaced with native plants. Birdfeeders were installed to attract birds year-round and encourage students’ participation in the winter bird counts. Native wildflowers were planted in the Bee Lawn to attract native pollinators for students to observe for the Bee Atlas. The creation of this space will help students learn about and enjoy local wildlife and Nebraska ecology. This project was completed in partnership with Brownell Talbot and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Child’s Hollow Pond Wildlife Viewing Station
Fontenelle Forest received funding for their project “Child’s Hollow Pond Wildlife Viewing Station.” This project constructed a wildlife viewing station along the Hickory Trail next to Child’s Hollow Pond. This area is used by numerous game species including deer, ducks, geese, turkey, and squirrels. The wildlife viewing station consists of a viewing blind, life-sized silhouettes of native wildlife, and an educational sign that includes information about the proper technique for observing wildlife and the natural world. Visitors to the forest are now able to view and appreciate the numerous wildlife species that use the pond in an undisturbed state. This project was completed in partnership with Fontenelle Forest, volunteer Ray Turkle, and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Interpretive Wildlife Displays
Chadron State Park
To provide more site and wildlife information, Chadron State Park submitted and was awarded funding for their “Interpretive Wildlife Displays” project. Six interpretive displays educate visitors on the ecosystems of the park and the unique wildlife like bighorn sheep and elk that occur in the area. Magnifying glasses, animal bio facts (i.e., tracks, furs, insects, and skull, egg, and fish replicas), and binoculars are also on display and used to enhance wildlife viewing opportunities, educational outreach, and environmental programs Chadron State Park offers. This project was completed in partnership with Chadron State Park and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Trailhead Interpretive Panels
Fort Kearny State Historical Park
The Watchable Wildlife Grant funded two interpretive display signs at the Hike Bike Trailhead at Fort Kearny Recreation Area. One interpretive sign will provide visitors with information about game species including prairie chicken, elk, and eastern cottontail. The second interpretive panel includes information about waterfowl that use the area including blue-winged teals, buffleheads, and white-fronted geese. This project was completed in partnership with Fort Kearny State Historical Park and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Bald Eagle Viewing Blind
Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area
Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area received funding to expand on the “Birding at the Lake” project by providing a permanent viewing blind for visitors to observe an active bald eagle nest. The blind provides visitors with a unique opportunity to watch the nesting eagles from 200 yards away. Visitors can use the blind year-round to observe other birds using the surrounding areas, such as waterfowl on the lake, songbirds in the Cottonwood grove, and turkey in the prairie south of the blind. The blind also enhances educational guided walks. This project was completed in partnership with Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
The Bumble Project
The Bumble Project was awarded the Watchable Wildlife Grant to fund the creation of a pollinator garden at a public park in Holdredge, Nebraska. The grant funded the purchase of native pollinator plants, labels for plants, advertisements, and a Bumble Project sign. Christine McCormick designed the pollinator garden, created the Bumble project website and Facebook page, led educational programs, and recruited volunteers to help with the maintenance of the garden. The Bumble project seeks to serve as a model for establishing more community and individual pollinator gardens throughout the region while also creating public awareness for the importance of pollinators and their habitats. This project was completed in partnership with Christine McCormick, City of Holdrege, Tri-Basin Natural Resource District, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Holdrege Public Schools, and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Summer Camp for Lincoln Community
Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center
Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center brought several Lincoln Community Learning Centers, daycares, and YMCA youth camps to the sanctuary for their summer camp. The grant helped fund the staff needed to train and educate summer camp and community center leaders about safety and outdoor activities. Over 150 youth participated in the summer camp. The campers learned about the prairie and the wildlife they were observing. Money from the grant funded wildlife journals for the campers, in which they recorded, sketched, and wrote about the plants and wildlife they observed. The campers got to take home their journals, so they could be reminded of their explorations on the prairie. This project was completed in partnership with the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Willa Cather Foundation
The Watchable Wildlife grants funded “Exploration Backpacks” for visitors to checkout at the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie. Each backpack contains binoculars, a magnifier, a writing journal, art supplies, and field guides that help enhance wildlife viewing and nature-based experiences for visitors to the native prairie. The backpacks are located at the headquarters and free for any visitors to checkout. This project was completed in partnership with the Willa Cather Foundation and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Rowe Sanctuary Education Programs
The Watchable Wildlife Grant funded scholarships for students to attend educational programs at Rowe Sanctuary. Additionally, the grant funded equipment for educational programs, including insect nets, dip nets, and seine nets. These nets helped students collect critters so they could view them up close. With over 2,000 students participating in the hands-on learning opportunities at Rowe Sanctuary every year, the equipment funded by this grant will help students make personal connections to nature for many years to come. This project was completed in partnership with the Rowe Sanctuary and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
State Park Bioblitzes
Bird Conservancy of the Rockies
Bird Conservancy of the Rockies earned funding for bioblitzes at Wildcat Hills and Chadron State Park. The bioblitzes provided an inventory of the species that exist at the two locations. The grant helped fund a Spanish language translator to help meet the needs of Spanish speaking families participating in the bioblitzes. Over 140 people including families and biologists helped identify the biodiversity at these two locations. Participants observed over 200 species of trees, plants, fungi, insects, mammals, birds, and reptiles at both locations. This project was completed in partnership with Bird Conservancy of the Rockies and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Community Garden Butterfly Station
North Platte Public Schools KIDS Klub
North Platte Public Schools KIDS Klub received funding for their project “Community Garden Butterfly Station”. This project allowed 4th and 5th graders to work with KIDS Klub afterschool staff and Pheasants Forever volunteers to plant an onsite pollinator garden. Working together they were able to plant 600 plants from 17 perennial species. Wooden stepping stones were used to create pathways and access throughout the garden. Educational signage was created and hung on site to provide information to the visitors of this community garden. This project was completed in partnership with Pheasants Forever, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Grizzly Woodworks, and Keep North Platte/Lincoln Counties Beautiful.
Education and Information Trail Kiosk Project
Prairie Pines Nature Preserve
Prairie Pines Nature Preserve (PPNP) and its trails are open to the public for “Second Saturdays”, the second Saturday of each month. In order to provide more site and wildlife information, PPNP submitted and was awarded funding for their “Education and Information Trail Kiosk” project. The kiosk is located at the Welcome Center and entry drive and includes information about trails, wildlife, and habitats. The information will help to provide a positive experience for site visitors. This project was completed in partnership with Prairie Pines Partners, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, and the Nebraska Forest Service.
Getting to Know Our Raptors
Wachiska Audubon Society
The Wachiska Audubon Society received funding for their project “Getting to Know Our Raptors.” This program took place in two parts. Part one was a presentation for 75 Lincoln students featuring birds of prey from the Raptor Center. Part two was a chance for these students to travel to the Raptor Center medical building to view the rehabilitation work that this organization provides. This project was completed in partnership with the Raptor Center, Wachiska Audubon Society, and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Teaching Naturalist Skills to Children at the Heron Haven Wetland
Heron Haven received funding to enhance nature viewing and educational opportunities at the wetland. Funds from the Watchable Wildlife Grant were used to purchase a compound microscope and other educational equipment. This equipment was used to educate visitors on how to collect samples on slides, use the microscopes, and identify species. Educational activities using the new equipment introduced visitors to a new realm of viewing nature and provoked a new curiosity for all the small life forms around them. This project was completed in partnership with Heron Haven, Friends of Heron Haven, and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Omaha Youth Birding Group
The Omaha Youth Birding Group received funding to attract more youth to participate in birding and birding field trips provided by the group and the Audubon Society of Omaha. Funds from the Watchable Wildlife Grant supported marketing materials and communication and outreach efforts to attract and educate youth and parents about birds and birding opportunities with the group. The funds helped the Omaha Youth Birding Group in reaching their goal to “awaken an appreciation for birds in children and teens, and create a greater awareness of birds they encounter in their daily environments.” This project was completed in partnership with The Omaha Youth Birding Group, the Audubon Society of Omaha, and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Wings & Weeds
Red Road Herbs Retreat and Learning Center LLC
Red Road Herbs Retreat & Learning Center LLC hosted “Wings & Weeds,” an annual celebration of butterflies and their habitat in August. The beauty and grace of butterflies are intrinsically fascinating. They are a colorful way to educate the public about the importance of pollinators and conservation of their habitat. The event was free and provided the public with educational opportunities on butterfly gardening and the science of butterflies. Citizen-based conservation of habitats for butterflies and other pollinators was demonstrated and encouraged. Additionally, “Wings & Weeds” included a guided tour by Rachel Liester, herbalist and Nebraska Master Naturalist, a habitat trail with 10 markers next to native plants. The markers also have photos of butterfly species that are attracted to each plant. The tour included a map and details about each butterfly and plant, as well as an informative discussion on how each plant is used by pollinators and humans. This project was completed in partnership with Red Road Herbs Retreat & Learning Center LLC and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Crystal Cove Wildlife Viewing Project
South Sioux City
Crystal Cove has become one of the primary recreational areas in South Sioux City, drawing a large number of residents and visitors of all ages throughout the year. The goal of this project was to provide educational opportunities for the public, as well as mitigate the lasting impacts that visitors have on the delicate ecosystem that exists at Crystal Cove. Utilizing underwater viewing cameras, linked to local Wi-Fi, Crystal Cove has been able to allow students in the classroom, those unable to access the outdoors, and those who enjoy watching wildlife, the opportunity to learn about and appreciate nature in its natural state without compromising the ecosystem that exists.
On site, the city was able to construct a viewing blind, as well as a building dedicated to watching the wildlife via these cameras. The newly constructed building contains three monitors that show live feeds of areas under the crystal clear water of the lake, as well as strategic locations on dry ground in the park. Visitors are able to view life under the water, activities not normally seen, which both educates and entertains visitors to the park, as well as those watching remotely. In the future, the city hopes to expand this project in several ways to attract many different species of shorebirds, migrating birds as well as the local mammal, reptile and amphibian populations in the area. This project was completed in partnership with South Sioux City and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Sandhill Crane Awareness and Promotion
Kearney Visitors Bureau
In 2015, the Kearney Visitors Bureau was able to update the current Sandhill crane videos and created a series of educational videos about why the cranes migrate along the Platte River. In the videos, Rowe Sanctuary volunteers, Rowe Sanctuary Director Bill Taddicken, NGPC Fort Kearney State Historical Park and Recreation Area Superintendent Gene Hunt, and other staff answered questions about the Sandhill Cranes. The videos were uploaded to the Kearney Visitors Bureau website, YouTube, and other social media outlets in the fall of 2015. They were also able to place photo frames that portray these videos at the State Visitor Center located in Kearney’s Archway. This project was completed in partnership with the Kearney Visitors Bureau and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.