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Thursday, December 4, 2008

In Nebraska City, take a Tree Adventure hike to get close to nature and history

NEBRASKA CITY, Neb. | Standing on the terrace of Lied Lodge on a cloudless fall morning, tour guide Carol Crook pointed out Arbor Lodge, the white frame mansion of J. Sterling Morton, rising just above the treetops.

In the foreground stood an experimental plantation of hazelnut trees, testing more than 100 varieties against long-term blight and a testament to Morton, the founder of Arbor Day. As if on cue, a blue jay flew across in front of the panorama. More than 170 species of birds have been identified on these grounds, Crook told us.

When Morton and his wife, Caroline, arrived in southeast Nebraska in 1855, “Nebraska City was a river freight town,” Crook said. The couple built a small cottage and immediately began planting trees on their 168-acre plot of prairie land. As editor of the Nebraska News, Morton exhorted his readers to plant trees and care for them.

In 1872 Morton pushed for Arbor Day to be declared in the young state of Nebraska. Leading others to find seedlings of the cottonwoods and burr oaks that grew along the banks of the Missouri River and nearby South Table Creek, he organized an observance in which schoolchildren and their parents across the state planted a million trees. Some 800 more non-native trees Morton had ordered didn’t arrive in time and were planted the following week.

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