Area attraction offers all-natural experience, appreciation

  • Published
  • By Debbie Aragon
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs
Shakespeare did it. Years later, so did Thomas Jefferson and John Lennon.
All of these men and many others have noted the importance of trees in their writings. But would that have been the case if they hadn't had the opportunity to run around trees, climb on them, swing from their branches or even lie under them for a few minutes to ponder? 

While past generations were routinely told to "go outside and play," many children today don't have the same opportunity to interact with grand oaks, tall pines or fragrant blue spruces. 

Here in the Heartland, young and old can stimulate their senses with the sights, sounds and smells of trees and the habitats surrounding them by taking a 40-minute drive south of Offutt along Highway 75 to the Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City. 

With Nebraska City pioneer J. Sterling Morton's vision to guide it, the Arbor Day Foundation's 260-acre farm continues to inspire and educate people of all ages. Mr. Morton is the man behind the first Arbor Day on April 10, 1872, when an estimated one million trees were planted in Nebraska; then just a barren, treeless prairie. 

"Plants and trees are the basis for life; the start of all food chains," said Susan Wirth, Arbor Day Farm education director. "And because of that, the Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure attraction focuses on the impact trees have in our lives and gives a one-of-a-kind nature experience." 

The tree adventure offers a variety of experiences to enthrall visitors. The interactive attractions begin in the Woodland Pavilion. For $6.50 for adults and $4.50 for children 3 to 12, people can become immersed in the world of trees in three very different areas.
Where people begin their experience is up to them. Those who choose to venture outside first can take the Tree House Trail, a half-mile, tree-lined path. Along the way they can see a wide variety of trees, test their knowledge of animal tracks; listen to bird calls and try to imitate them; and see how well they know the smells of the forest at six scent boxes. That's all in the first quarter mile. 

At the halfway point, visitors will find the Nature Club Cabin at the base of Canopy Tree House. The cabin contains various mysteries to solve and an active bee hive encased in glass. 

After exploring the Nature Club Cabin, visitors can climb the 50-foot tree house to Canopy Tower where they'll be able to observe the forest floor from tree-top level.
Walking the last quarter mile back to Woodland Pavilion, people can identify more trees and animal tracks and count the rings of an oak tree more than 100 years old. 

Arbor Day Farm's newest attraction is the Discovery Ride, which opened in April 2008. While sitting in a tram under a giant red maple leaf canopy, guests travel across the 260-acre property discovering many wonders of nature, said Beverly Todd, Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure director. 

"This is an opportunity to be in on the secrets and surprises of the forest," she said, "and see first-hand that planting trees does more good than you imagined." 

Once back inside the main building, visitors can stop at a number of stations and interactive games among the indoor "forest;" all while hearing the sounds of storms, streams and songbirds adding to the natural setting. 

The presentation, packed with humorous and serious moments, "really focuses on the impact trees have on the world that people wouldn't necessarily think of," Ms. Wirth said. 

Included in the Tree Adventure ticket price is a tour of the large Lied Greenhouse and a seedling to take home; the species of which is based on where the person lives. 

The large state-of-the-art greenhouse is a sea of green and can grow up to 140,000 seedlings at a time. Each year, 500,000 trees are grown here. Currently, green house workers tend to seven varieties of trees, each grown as a plug with peat moss to protect its roots during shipping. 

The trees people take home with them for planting - whether in a backyard, garden or field - make a vital contribution to conservation projects and protecting the environment, Ms. Wirth said. 

The farm plans a wide variety of special events April 25 and 26 during its Arbor Day Family Festival from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. To find out more, call (402) 873-8717 or visit www.arbordayfarm.org

Later this year, guests to Arbor Day farm can also experience the Tree Adventure outdoor exhibit, Artisan Woods. Open June 21 - Oct. 31, the exhibit will feature tree-inspired art and architecture along the trails. 

Offutt will also celebrate Arbor Day with a tree planting ceremony April 29 at 2 p.m. near Bldg. 40. This is the 23rd year Offutt has earned the Arbor Day Foundation's Tree City USA award and the 19th year to be presented with the foundation's Growth Award. The growth award is given for environmental improvement and encouraging higher levels of tree care. There are only 3,310 Tree City USA and 534 Growth Award communities in the United States.