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A History of Audubon in Nebraska

1913 – The National Association of Audubon Societies partners with the City of Valentine to construct the bison enclosure at the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge. In the early part of the century, Audubon was instrumental in bison preservation because of the efforts of its vice president, who was also president of the American Bison Society.

1970 – The first Spring River Conference is held in Grand Island. The conference would soon move to Kearney and eventually be renamed the Rivers and Wildlife Celebration and then Audubon’s Nebraska Crane Festival. It is one of the longest-running wildlife events in the country.

1971 – The Omaha Birding Club votes to become the Audubon Society of Omaha, the first officially chartered chapter in the state.

1973 – The Wachiska Audubon Society forms in Lincoln and serves 17 counties in southeast Nebraska.

1974 – National Audubon Society purchases the Lillian Annette Rowe Sanctuary near Gibbon, eventually preserving four miles of the finest remaining crane habitat on the river. The sanctuary was also the first land to be protected for migratory waterfowl on the central Platte.

1975 – Water projects that would have further drained vital flows needed by migratory waterfowl were being proposed for the Platte River. Led by Audubon, the Midstate Project, the largest and most threatening of the proposed diversions, is defeated in a local referendum. This effort led directly to the formation of the Big Bend Audubon Society in Kearney, as well as chapters in Grand Island and Hastings.

1976 – The Wachiska Chapter establishes the Raptor Recovery Center as a Bicentennial project.

1978 – The Wildcat Audubon Society is chartered as an Audubon chapter, taking its name from the beautiful Wildcat Hills near Scottsbluff. The Wachiska Chapter leases Nine-Mile Prairie from the Lincoln Airport Authority, starting a sequence of events that will culminate in the preservation of the historic prairie by the University of Nebraska Foundation.

1980 – Audubon helps to organize landowners along the Niobrara River to oppose construction of the Norden Dam.

1985 – To give Audubon chapters a statewide voice and a means to network, chapter leaders form the Nebraska Audubon Council. The National Audubon Society hires a manager for Rowe Sanctuary and Audubon members volunteered workdays to help improve the sanctuary.

1986 – The Norden Dam on the Niobrara River is de-authorized.

1989 – "Crane River" debuts on The World of Audubon. Narrated by Leonard Nimoy, the film highlights the importance of the Platte River for cranes and other wildlife, as well as the various threats from additional water projects such as the Two Forks Dam near Denver.

1990 – Nine years of Audubon opposition to the Two Forks Dam culminates when the Environmental Protection Agency rules against construction. The National Audubon Society acquires 218 acres on the Niobrara River to preserve as a sanctuary, which later becomes the Fred Thomas preserve owned by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

1991 – President Bush signs legislation designating the Niobrara River as a National Wild and Scenic River.

1992 – The Audubon Society of Omaha succeeds in saving a 25-acre wetland in the middle of the city, naming it Heron Haven, now managed by the Papio-Missouri Natural Resources District.

1994 – The Wachiska Chapter obtains a conservation easement on the Wulf Prairie, which marks the start of an effort to preserve prairies throughout the 17-county region the chapter serves.

1995 – The Wildcat Audubon Society plays a major role in raising funds and community support for the completed Wildcat Hills Nature Center by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

1996 – Audubon Nebraska defends the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's application to protect flows for fish and wildlife on the Platte River.

1997 – Audubon opens a state office in Nebraska. Helped by the participation of Audubon and the Platte River Whooping Crane Trust in the relicensing of Kingsley Dam, the states of Nebraska, Wyoming, and Colorado sign a cooperative agreement to address endangered species issues on the central Platte with a basin-wide approach.

1998 – Audubon purchases the O'Brien Ranch, preserving one of the largest parcels of tallgrass prairie left in the state. The ranch is renamed Spring Creek Prairie, and the organization embarks on an effort to turn the property into a premier prairie education center and sanctuary.

1999 – Audubon Nebraska secures passage of its own legislation that bans the location of large confined hog and cattle feeding facilities in the watersheds of our highest quality streams, many of which support breeding populations of trout.

2000 – Wachiska Audubon Society purchases 16 acres of land adjoining Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, enlarging the site to 626 acres.

2002 – Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center's trail ruts are officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the nation's inventory of historic properties considered worthy of preservation. The ruts are part of the Nebraska City-Fort Kearny Cutoff to the Oregon Trail and were active in the 1850's and 1860's. The $1.6 million campaign to build a 6,400-sq.-ft. education/visitor facility at Rowe Sanctuary is successfully completed.

2003 – Wachiska Audubon Society donates Wachiska Woods, a 16-acre woodland adjoining Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, to Audubon. Construction is completed on the new Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary.

2004 The IBA technical review committee selects its first group of 16 Important Bird Areas.

2005 – Ten more sites are selected as Important Bird Areas. With the combining of several IBAs chosen in 2004 into one IBA, the state list now stands at 24. Construction begins on the new education building/visitors center at Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center.

2006 – A grand opening ceremony is held to officially open the new education building at Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center. Audubon purchases 168 acres of land just east of Spring Creek Prairie, bringing the property's total acreage to 808 acres. Audubon purchases 200 acres of land just west of Rowe Sanctuary, south of the river.

2007 – A State Historical Marker is placed at Spring Creek Prairie, memorializing the existing wagon ruts from the Nebraska City-Fort Kearny Cutoff to the Oregon Trail.

2008 – Rowe Sanctuary completes purchase of 200 acres of riverfront land, the Younkin acquisition, bringing the sanctuary's total acreage to 1,900. Marian Langan of Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center receives national TogetherGreen Conservation Fellowship.

2009 –Deb Hauswald of Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center is named the Tamar Chotzen Audubon Educator of the Year by the National Audubon Society. Two new sites are added to the Important Bird Areas roster: the Greater Gracie Creek Landscape and the Aldrich Prairie Research Site.

2012 – Keanna Leonard of Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary is named the Tamar Chotzen Audubon Educator of the Year by the National Audubon Society. Spring Creek Prairie named one of the top 50 Ecotourism sites in the Great Plains by the Center for Great Plains Studies at UNL.

2013 – Fifty acres of land just south of Spring Creek Prairie is purchased to protect prairie, bringing the Center’s property total to 850 acres.

2014 –New interactive exhibits are installed at Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center that celebrate the natural and cultural history of our tallgrass prairie.

2016 - Spring Creek Prairie enters into an agreement with Lincoln’s Community Learning Centers to offer its first series of week-long summer camps for youth. The students served by this program come from CLC programs embedded within diverse and historically under-served areas of Lincoln.

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