Home » About Us » Timeline

Timeline

1980

PPRI was incorporated on April 29, held a conference at The Leadership Center funded by the Nebraska Humanities Council entitled "The Prairie Project" in March, and held its first Annual Meeting in June at the Whitney cabin on a sandpit north of Hordville. Hal Nagel suggested the goal of having a prairie in each county in Nebraska.

Prairie restorations and land management activities began along Lincoln Creek at the east edge of Aurora, on an acreage belonging to Wilma Aalborg. The first PPRI prairie restoration took place here in June.

1981

PPRI's first prescribed burn took place on the Aalborg land in early April.

1982

Began the Bader Park Memorial Natural Area Interpretive Program, including management of the Natural Area native hay meadow and a monthly nature tour program. Gerry and Mary Ellen Gerloff from Madison, Wisconsin, and Robert Gerloff from Hamilton, Montana, were instrumental in beginning this project with support from their Aunt, Julie Eriksen, through the Hamilton Community Foundation.  (The Gerloff brothers are relatives of Victor Gjerloff, the pre-1970 owner of the Griffith land that PPRI later bought. The river access there was called Gjerloff Landing.)

1982-1988

Three new prairie plantings on the Lincoln Creek Land and one at The Leadership Center were completed.

1983

Wilma Aalborg donated six acres along Lincoln Creek, south of Highway 34 near The Leadership Center. A renewable lease agreement with the City of Aurora added an adjoining 12 acres to the Lincoln Creek project, and a plan for the Lincoln Creek Parkway corridor from Streeter Park to PPRI's land was planned to include wild areas, parkland and a trail. This plan was expanded in 1986 to head east to the newly constructed Pioneer Trails Recreation Area, an NRD lake.

In November Howard Juhl donated 320 acres of land including cropland, virgin prairie hay meadow and native rangeland in Nebraska's Central Loess Hills near Amherst, and dedicated it as the Pearl Harbor Survivors Preserve. Howard planted a 17-acre wheat field from his van window after the donation at Hal & Glennis Nagel's home in Kearney.

1988

Microcosm of the Platte - a Guide to Bader Memorial Park Natural Area, one of the first comprehensive natural history guides to the central Platte River, was published.

1989

Neal and Izen Ratzlaff donated a 30-acre virgin prairie in southeast Hamilton County near Henderson and Farmers Valley Cemetery, dedicated as the Marie Ratzlaff Prairie Preserve.

1991

PPRI began to assist landowners Mert Griffith and Curt Carlson on the Platte River Bluffs in prescribed burning activities on their rangeland. Mert Griffith stored PPRI burn equipment.

Work began on scaling up the high diversity restoration process to plant 40 acres per year on lands along the Platte River, followed by increased goals of up to 120 acres per year through the late 1990s. Planted new areas at The Leadership Center from 1992-1995.

1992

The first SOAR Program (Summer Orientation About Rivers) nature daycamp for youth took flight in Aurora after a year of meticulous planning with Doug Monson, Bruce Ramsour, Mike Stewart and Ron Haden from Aurora schools.

1993

Howard Juhl donated a 4344-acre Sioux County ranch on the headwaters of the Niobrara River to be dedicated the Guadalcanal Memorial Prairie Ranch, to be kept as a working ranch as well as an education and research resource for Nebraska's panhandle region.

1995

The Olson Nature Preserve in Boone County was acquired – 77 acres including Beaver Creek, a perennial spring-fed stream, oaks, sandhill prairie, wetlands and scenic vistas. PPRI later added 35 acres of sandhills with a lease from Jerry Niewohner.

Began the annual member treks to the Guadalcanal Memorial Prairie Ranch in Sioux County.
SOAR received an Award of Excellence from the Governor's Council to Keep Nebraska Beautiful; USDA Cooperative Extension listed SOAR as one of 37 nationwide model programs.

1997

PPRI planted its first rainwater basin site, a quarter section on the south side of Springer Basin in Hamilton County north of Giltner. Also, a two-part article on PPRI restoration was featured in Restoration and Management Notes, a journal published by the University of Wisconsin.

1999

PPRI began harvesting seed for more restoration projects on rainwater basin wetlands in south-central Nebraska. Hired our first non-Whitney employee, Jason Johnson.

Received a grant from EPA to develop the Platte Corridor Initiative, a culturally based conservation initiative.

2000

A grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust created the Prairie Restoration Cooperative to expand the restoration process into new areas. Gerry Steinauer with Nebraska Game and Parks Commission moved his office to PPRI headquarters and Mike Bullerman came to run the cooperative. This increased the number of temporary employees each summer. Cooperative crew planted from 250-800 acres of high diversity prairie per year through 2004.

2001

Received a grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust to purchase Platte River land and to create a resource center. Purchased 390-acre Griffith Prairie and Farm.

Received a gift of 40 acres of Colfax County land from Gene and Margaret Pokorny of Boston, including a 20-acre virgin prairie and a 20-acre restoration PPRI staff planted in 2002.  It is dedicated as the Frank L. and Lillian Pokorny Memorial Prairie.

2002-2003

Architecture student, Mark Ratzlaff designed a barn conversion building as part of his Master's Degree Program at UNL's School of Architecture.

2003

Changed the publication format from an annual Prairie Plains Journal to the Prairie Plains Quarterly.

Helped form PACE, (Planning, Aggregates, Community and Environment); helped form the Platte PEER Group (People, Education, Environment, and Recreation) for recreation development along the Platte.

Lee Schriever and Mark Ratzlaff designed an educational center using the Sands barn; Mark created a scale model of the building.

2004

Accomplished significant cedar removal and burning on the Griffith Prairie.

The Lincoln Creek bridge and the walking trail were completed.

Conducted the 13th SOAR Program at Aurora.

Purchased 600 acres of land that has always been part of the Sioux County Ranch as a leased school section. The owned ranch land totals 4944 acres.

Hired Amy Jones to begin the process of fund development and marketing as an initial step in the strategic plan.

Fenced and installed livestock wells on the Marie Ratzlaff Prairie Preserve in Hamilton County and the Frank L. and Lillian Pokorny Memorial Prairie in Colfax County.

2005

Photographer Michael Forsberg presented his book, On Ancient Wings, at the annual membership meeting.

32 volunteers gathered at Griffith Prairie for the 3rd Annual Cedar Attack.  The large tree piles were burned later in the year.

Volunteers also helped burn the hay meadow and hand plant the north pasture at Bader Memorial Park in April. In May, heavy rains flooded much of the park.

Planted 430 acres of prairie on 9 different sites.

Pokorny Prairie was burned in May.

Bill led Sandy Creek third graders on a tour of Bader Park. Tours with the school have been taking place since the late 1980s.

Celebrated the Institute’s 25th Anniversary with over 300 friends at Griffith Prairie and Farm in May.

Enjoyed Flight 14 of SOAR featuring a Native American theme.

Completed and outstanding native prairie seed harvest, collecting over 180 species from 88 sites.

Hosted the first ever SOAR for All Ages, a harvest festival at Lincoln Creek Prairie and Trail in October.

Began creating a long-term plan for the Guadalcanal Memorial Prairie and Ranch in Sioux County.

Participated in a presentation of PACE at the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association’s Environment, Safety and Health Forum.

2006

Celebrated the New Year with 26 friends at the Annual New Year’s Day hike at Griffith Prairie.

Construction began on the Education Center at Griffith Prairie. Plans include moving the barn in winter ’06-’07.

Planted 653 acres of prairie on nine different sites.

Conducted prescribed burns on over 1200 acres.

Held a record number of volunteer work days including the fourth annual Cedar Attack at Griffith Prairie, prescribed burns at Lincoln Creek and Bader Park; and six consecutive work evenings from mid-May through June for seed collecting and de-fencing at Griffith Prairie.

Two very successful and well-attended seasonal festivals that were fun and educational for all ages - the Spring Prairie Festival at Griffith Prairie and the Harvest Festival at Lincoln Creek Prairie.

Banner years for SOAR: Flight Fifteen based in Aurora and Flight Ten for Big Bend SOAR co-sponsored by Rowe Sanctuary. That’s a total of over 250 area youth learning about their natural and cultural heritage while having loads of outdoor fun.

A record number of diverse activities at Griffith Prairie: the traditional New Year’s Day hike; the Spring Prairie Festival and volunteer work evenings mentioned above; a Doane College writing group visit and National Trails Day ride in June, SOAR for all Ages just prior to SOAR in July; a tour group with the North American Prairie conference in July; the FAMFest hike and “SOAR Day” for Nebraska home-schooled children in September and the State Range Judging Contest and visit from the History Channel in October.

Ever-increasing programming at the Olson Nature Preserve, thanks to a dedicated group of teachers and ONP Stewards in the Boone County area - including ongoing Summer Research and Enrichment programs, Great Plains Chautauqua on July 8, and another successful Enchanted Evening in October.

The 24th round of tours at Bader Park, now drawing increasing numbers of hikers.

The Nebraska Wildlife Federation named Bill and Jan Whitney Conservationists of the Year for 2006 for their work with PPRI.

Began publishing the Prairie Plains Link, a monthly newsletter distributed to members.

2007

On February 8th and 9th the roof of the Sands Barn was moved to sit on its new foundation at the Prairie Plains Education Center at Griffith Prairie and Farm.

Launched a powerful new website - www.prairieplains.org.

Introduced an updated Prairie Plains logo.

Benefited from 371 volunteer hours spent on everything from building fence to cleaning block for the Ed Center to shelling Sullivant's Milkweed.

Cosponsored the Grassland Foundation's second annual lecture on "Grassland Conservation and Communities."

Provided a beautiful venue (Griffith Prairie) for the Mid-Nebraska Trail Seekers Volkswalk and a spring trail ride for horse lovers on April 28th.

Mourned the loss of Charles L. Whitney - friend, board member and legal counsel for Prairie Plains since 1980.

Enjoyed "Stories" as the theme for SOAR Flight 16 with 122 campers and 24 peer leaders.

Hosted the First Annual Restoration Tour in August, highlighting 5 sites of Prairie Plains high-diversity restoration - our first official activity held in the Education Center.

Voted unanimously to name the Education Center at Griffith Prairie for the late Charles L. Whitney, Jr., father of Prairie Plains cofounder and director Bill Whitney.

Harvested a bumper seed crop - enough to seed 600 Nebraska acres into beautiful, high-diversity prairie restorations.

Raised $150,388 (including a $50,000 matching grant from Kiewit Foundation) for construction of the Charles L. Whitney Education Center.  

2008

Enjoyed a cold and snowy New Year's Day hike at Griffith Prairie with 25 members and friends.

Reached the Phase One fundraising goal of $300,000 to allow completion of the first floor of the Charles L. Whitney Education Center.

Constructed and installed three signs on three Prairie Plains properties - Griffith Prairie and Farm, The Marie Ratzlaff Prairie Preserve and The Frank L. and Lillian Pokorny Memorial Prairie.

Planted 589 acres of high-diversity prairie, bringing the total number of acres planted since 1980 to almost 6,000!

Burned 250 acres of Griffith Prairie including tree piles cut in 2006-2007 - an amazing sight!

Enjoyed SOARing into the Night with Flight 17 of Summer Orientation About Rivers.  Since 1992 over 1,000 individual campers have benefited from the SOAR experience.

Completed an outstanding native prairie seed harvest, collecting 40 barrels of high-diversity seed - that's enough seed to plant over 750 acres!

Enjoyed an increased number of outdoor field days with area schools and realized we never tire of spending time with kids outside.

Continued planning for the future of the Institute, including outdoor education, restoration and community development centered around the vast potential of the Education Center.

2009

Continued the tradition of the New Year's Day Hike with 16 attendees and some snow on the trails.

Awarded the Charles L. Whitney Outstanding Service Award to long-time board member Mitzi Fox.

Purchased a goose-neck trailer to haul equipment and seed to restoration sites.

Began posting video of prescribed burns, Bader Park tours and SOAR on YouTube.com.

Received our third GIS grant in 11 years from Environmental Systems Research Institute for the new 3D Analyst extension.

Conducted a record number of outdoor field days with area schools.

Enjoyed a breathtaking Sioux County Ranch Trek in June.  Timely rain, and plenty of it, turned the hills green and popped out a variety of colorful wildflowers.

Bestowed the title of Elite Native Plant Rescue Team (ENPRT) on our restoration team and made the new title visible on florescent yellow t-shirts.

Collected record numbers of sedges due to a long, wet spring. Struck out on grass harvest, however, as grass seed was scarce and the combine fell ill.

Hosted June Wildflower Week walks as well as the usual Bader Park tours.

Purchased a 2001 3/4 ton Chevy pickup - a much-needed upgrade to our restoration equipment.

Delighted in a record attendance at Hamilton County SOAR.  Campers enjoyed some new SOAR experiences including a morning at historic Kronborg, a tour of Grain Place Foods and a visit from UNL herpetologist Dennis Ferraro.

Mourned the loss of Prairie Plains co-founder and long-time friend, Curt Twedt.

Presented at the 2009 Land Trust Alliance Rally in Portland, Oregon. Jan and Bill led a workshop entitled "Connecting People to Land through Educational Programming," and Bill and board member Kelly Kindscher presented "Land Stewardship and Ecological Restoration."

Benefitted from the work of scout Miles Wynn who constructed an information kiosk at the Olson Nature Preserve as his Eagle Scout project.

Planted 735 acres of high-diversity prairie on 22 project sites in 15 Nebraska counties, bringing the total acres planted to 6,012 since 1979.  Now that's a lot of prairie!

Ended the year in a position of financial surplus! Many thanks to our loyal, supportive members and our awesome Prairie Restoration Team.

2010

Celebrated 30 years!!! 

Enjoyed our first-ever New Year's Day sledding party at Griffith Prairie.

Introduced the "Prairies Made by Hand" artwork on t-shirts, print ads and the website.

Hosted a fundraiser banquet and auction at the UNL East Campus Union - drawing 150 people and raising $7,000.

Unveiled the Ribbons of Prairie concept in the Prairie Plains Link.

Began research on the rare Ute lady's tresses orchid at the Guadalcanal Memorial Prairie in Sioux County.

Acquired three new implements; a Polaris Ranger utility vehicle, a 1984 Gleaner L3 combine and a Polaris 850 ATV.

Improved the blue barn at Griffith's by replacing the dirt floor with concrete (thanks to the Hamilton Community Foundation).

Welcomed interns Adele Phillips (April-July) and Sarah Bailey.  Adele helped burn, fence and harvest.  Sarah worked in all areas of the restoration program and will manage the greenhouse once completed.

Began construction of a solar lean-to greenhouse on the south side of the blue barn at Griffith's.

2011

Completed construction of the solar lean-to greenhouse on the Griffith farmyard.

Hired Sarah Bailey as our full-time greenhouse manager/restoration assistant and Sarah planted the first seeds in the new greenhouse.

Removed and rebuilt over 1.25 miles of fence at Griffith Prairie and Farm.

Sold prairie seedlings from the greenhouse at the Lauritzen Gardens Spring Into Spring event.

Hosted our first ever 5K/10K Fun Run/Walk at Griffith Prairie on June 4th.  Beautiful weather and a lush, green prairie were highlights of the day.

Hired employee number 6! Jeff Gustafson joined the staff as our land steward/restoration assistant.

Provided high-diversity prairie restoration services on 480 acres, bringing the total to 6,928 acres since 1979.

Celebrated 20 amazing years of Summer Orientation About Rivers with a record number of campers!!!

Completed the roof build-out, interior framing and window installation on the 2nd level of the Charles L. Whitney Education Center.

Received an option to purchase Tom Sherman's 650-acre property along the Platte River - just one mile east of Griffith Prairie.

Introduced the Ribbons of Prairie initiative, emphasizing our commitment to the land and its people.

2012

Planted 1,560 acres, working on 25 sites in 18 counties.  To date we have restored over 8,500 acres since 1979. 

Grew 1,770 seedlings in the greenhouse, including 80 species, transplanting to nine different sites.

Accomplished extensive weed tree clearing/cleanup at Olson Nature Preserve.

Enjoyed the Fundraiser Banquet held in January, Fun Run and Ranch Trek in June, record SOAR attendance in July, multiple Bader Park walking tours and various outdoor ed days with local schools.

Recognized Mike Stewart, Bruce Ramsour, Ron Haden and Amy Wilson with the Charles L. Whitney Outstanding Service Award for 20 years of service to SOAR.

Received use of a tractor at Griffith Prairie and Farm thanks to a non-profit program offered by John Deere.

Welcomed summer temporary employees Laura Rubeck and Cale Jones. (After 7 years of volunteering, Cale finally got a paycheck!)

Established a new Platte corridor working group comprised of area people representing multiple interests in the river.

Completed installation of septic system, recycled barn siding, screened porch windows and doors and patio concrete at the Charles L. Whitney Education Center.

Bid farewell to Prairie Plains VIPs Howard Juhl and Robert Gerloff.

2013

Relocated back to the "original" office space at 1307 L Street - a much cozier, efficient space.

Participated in the first ever "Conservation Jam" hosted by UNL's Center for Great Plains Studies and The Nature Conservancy.

Launched the Youth Prairie Naturalist Program for Hamilton and Merrick County students in grades 7-11.

Continuted facilitating Lone Tree Planning Group meetings to discuss and create a vision for the Platte Corridor between Grand Island and Clarks.

Welcomed temporary employee Jameson Crumpler as a restoration and stewardship field assistant.

Made huge strides toward the completion of the Charles L. Whitney Education Center. With the generous support of members, foundations and the Mitzi Fox Remainder Trust, we surpassed the two-thirds mark of our fundraising goal and prepared for HVAC, electrical and plumbing work. Excavation work and installation of the geothermal tubing was also completed.

Completed the interior finish work on the screened porch at the Education Center and hosted several small gatherings (including Barn Jam) to enjoy the space and the scenery.

Said goodbye to Mitzi Fox and Lou Gilbert. Mitzi was a board member from 1997 to 2008 and a champion of the Olson Nature Preserve. Lou also served on the board (1991-1995) and introduced us to Lee Schriever, the architect for the Charles L. Whitney Education Center.

Introduced SOAR campers to the Tom Sherman Ranch along the Platte River on SOAR Mondays and enjoyed two weeks full of discovery and fun - including Farmers Valley Cemetery and SOAR Into the Night!

Hosted several volunteer seedling planting days, many outdoor education days, the traditional Bader Park tour schedule and a memorial service for Mitzi Fox at ONP.

Purchased a new gooseneck trailer to haul the combine, greatly improving the efficiency of our grass harvest.

Prairie Plains
Resource Institute

1307 L Street
Aurora, NE 68818
402-694-5535
email us