Terri Licking | Thedford, Neb.

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April 23, 2014
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Celebrating Arbor Day's deep roots in the Nebraska Sandhills

In 1895, by legislative action, Nebraska was declared the “Tree Planter State.”

This came about due to the founding of Arbor Day (Arbor is the Latin word for tree) in 1872 by Nebraska City resident, J. Sterling Morton, by the Timber Culture Act of 1873 by U.S Senator Phineas W. Hitchcock and by the millions of trees planted by early settlers for windbreaks, woodlots and orchards.

It wasn’t until 50 years later when the legislature changed the state name.

Arbor Day is a state holiday in Nebraska, always on the last Friday in April. It is a day designated for planting trees and remembering the important part they play in our environment and our daily lives.

This year, on Arbor Day — Friday, April 25 — area volunteers and staff of the Nebraska National Forest-Bessey Ranger District and the Bessey Nursery will be kicking-off the Discovery Loup, a Sandhills natural walking trail at the Bessey Recreation Complex.

Located near Halsey, the Bessey Nursery, as originally established, is comprised of 15 acres of land south of the Middle Loup River and includes a two-story headquarters building, mess hall, barn and shop building. The nursery was created in 1903 to produce seedling trees for planting on the Dismal River Forest Preserve, which later became the Nebraska National Forest.

It was the first federal forest tree nursery, still in production, and was developed by the U.S. Bureau of Forestry, which later became the Forest Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Originally called the Halsey Nursery, the name was changed in 1915 in honor of Dr. Charles E. Bessey, former professor of botany at the University of Nebraska.

The Bessey Nursery is on the National Register of Historic Places.


The Discovery Loup is a three-quarter mile walking trail which meets the needs of the wheelchair bound, senior citizens and others with mobility challenges. It is located near the Forest entrance and convenient access to the Visitors Center, Middle Loup River and the nursery.

Some activities planned for the day include tours of the Scott Look-out Tower and Bessey Nursery at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. with a formal presentation beginning at 1 p.m. at the Forest Visitor Center, with special guest and emcee for the day, Arbor Day Foundation member, Michael Jacquez. Jacquez is excited to come from Nebraska City, which began Arbor Day and celebrate trees at “the original American nursery.”

“This kick-off is only the first phase of the project. We will be ‘planting’ posts by the 60-plus tree species located within the Discovery Loup that will eventually have the tree name, scientific name, species and leaf diagram on them,” states Pam Reed, master naturalist, who has spearheaded the project, working closely with Tim Buskirk, district ranger at the forest, and Richard Gilbert, manager of the Bessey Nursery.

Interpretive panels along the Discovery Loup walkway will feature the natural wonders of the Sandhills — the experimental forest, federal nursery, prairie rivers, grasslands, wildflowers, wildlife and history of the area. The project involves the renovation of the Bessey Arboretum, which is a collection of over 60 tree species, the installation of outdoor interpretive panels and development of other educational materials.

“I am excited about the beginnings of an organized volunteer corps. It will do wonders to help us promote and interpret the district, nursery and the Sandhills,” Buskirk said.

The volunteer corps include Sandhills RC&D, local residents, Thomas County Visitors Committee and the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway.

For more information, contact Pam Reed at (308) 660-3032, or Bessey Nursery manager Richard Gilbert or district ranger Tim Buskirk, both at (308) 533-2257. ❖

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The Fence Post Updated May 5, 2014 11:22AM Published Apr 23, 2014 09:56AM Copyright 2014 The Fence Post. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.