Lincoln, Nebraska

Saline WetlandsFor the early pioneers of the mid–19th century, Nebraska impressed with its sweeping vistas, low rolling hills, and vast open spaces. Those who sojourned along the Oregon Trail as it hugged the Platte River must have marveled at the seeming impossibility of abundance, future promise, and opportunity. For Willa Cather and her literary heroes, there was room to breathe out here among the tallgrass prairies and cottonwoods.

Today a different type of migration offers Cornhuskers a fresh perspective. While the state still offers an abundance of lightly developed or undeveloped land throughout its central and western counties, there has been a dramatic shift in population growth and concentration as Nebraska urbanizes. The corridor along Interstate 80, between Omaha and Lincoln, offers some of the fastest growth in the entire state. Relatively high urban densities in this relatively small region challenges the preservation of the open spaces that Nebraskans have always assumed would be there.

In Lincoln, the state capital and home of the University of Nebraska, and surrounding Lancaster County, the population has mushroomed. Demographers predict the number of residents, just 100,000 during World War II, will pass 300,000 early in the 2010s. Local concern about the need for park and recreation lands to serve the growing population, as well as strong desire to protect sensitive environmental features such as the rare Eastern Nebraska saline wetlands, has prompted a call to action.

Open space plan imageThe American Planning Association's City Parks Forum provided the jump start Mayor Don Wesely's staff needed to begin a strong cooperative process to produce a Greenprint Plan for the 2025 Lincoln/Lancaster County Comprehensive Plan. Meeting the Greenprint Challenge, leaders from Lincoln and Lancaster County forged a robust partnership among organizations including the Sierra Club, the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District, and the Wachiska Audubon Society. The coalition organized public forums and meetings to meet the challenge of a comprehensive open space plan that would integrate previously independent research and preservation initiatives.

The conceptual cornerstone of the Greenprint Plan is a set of "core resource imperatives" that are the highest priorities for parkland and preservation: saline and freshwater wetlands, native prairies, and corridors along the tributaries of the Platte River. These core resource imperatives were also pivotal in planning the Salt Valley Heritage Greenway around Lincoln. There is strong desire among the partnership to maintain sustainable urban development in Lincoln and equally sustainable, but rural, development in outlying areas of Lancaster County.

Lincoln/Lancaster County used a catalyst grant from The City Parks Forum to produce an approved 2025 Comprehensive Plan and integrated Greenprint Plan in 2005. Hand-in-hand with APA, the policymakers and residents of Nebraska's second-largest city are blazing new trails as pioneers on the frontier of open space conservation and sustainable parkland preservation.


Lynn Johnson, Director
Department of Parks & Recreation
2740 A Street
Lincoln, NE 68502
(P) 402-441-7847

Images: Top — Saline wetlands. American Planning Association. Bottom — Open space plan image. City of Lincoln, Nebraska.