Pitcher sage and restored prairie at The Nature Conservancy's Derr Tract in the Central Platte River area.
Derr prairie Pitcher sage and restored prairie at The Nature Conservancy's Derr Tract in the Central Platte River area. © Chris Helzer/The Nature Conservancy

Places We Protect

Platte River Prairies

Nebraska

Full of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, wildflowers and grasses, there's something special to see year-round.

Located between Grand Island and Kearney, Nebraska, the Platte River Prairies are a chain of grasslands and wetlands that are managed for biological diversity.

Why the Conservancy Selected This Site

The Nature Conservancy selected the Platte River as a priority site because of its significant upland and wetland habitat for migratory water birds and native resident plants and animals.

Information About the Site

The Conservancy owns six tracts of land totaling 4,609 acres along the Platte River, and has five easements on 2,866 more. We've restored about 1,500 acres of cropland to high-diversity prairie in an effort to enlarge and reconnect fragments of native prairie—and now we manage them with a combination of prescribed fire and grazing.

The stretch of the Platte River known as the Big Bend Reach is the most important migratory bird area along the United States portion of the Central Flyway of North America. The Platte and its adjacent wet meadows in the Big Bend region provide habitat for millions of migratory birds including some 500,000 sandhill cranes and millions of ducks and geese.

It is an important stopover location for migrating whooping cranes during the spring and fall migration. The area is also very important for threatened and endangered species such as the bald eagle, interior least tern, piping plover and many grassland bird species.

Our nature trail is open to the public.

Please:

  1. Stay on trail.
  2. No littering.
  3. No camping.
  4. No smoking.
  5. Please keep dogs on leash. (There are large numbers of cactus on the trail.)
  6. Leave it as you found it. (Cattle may be present along the trails.  Please be sure to close and latch the gate behind you.)

What to See

These prairies have a great diversity of plants, particularly grasses, sedges, and wildflowers. That plant diversity provides resources and habitat for a host of animal species, from insects to birds.  During summer, common bird species can include grasshopper sparrows, bobolinks, dickcissels, upland sandpipers, bobwhite quail, sedge wrens, eastern and western meadowlarks, and many others.

The west trail passes through restored mesic and wet-mesic prairie. These lowland grasslands are on alluvial soils—soils formed by historic Platte River flows. The resulting mixture of sandy and sandy-loam soils distributed across the landscape results in a patchwork of plant communities tied to those soil types.  Plant species such as bluestem, indiangrass, Canada milkvetch, purple praire clover, and wild bergamot are common in these prairies.

The east trail starts in mesic prairie but soon travels uphill into sandhill prairie. Both the restored and native portions of this prairie are underlaid by sand dunes constructed by historic winds blowing sand from the wide Platte River valley. The plant communities on these sandhills are dominated by plants such as sand lovegrass, sand dropseed, needle-and-thread, stiff sunflower, blazing star, spiderwort, and many others.

Plants

Big bluestem. Little bluestem, Purple prairie clover, Sand lovegrass, Switchgrass, Black-eyed susan, Illinois Bundleflower, Lady’s tresses, Prairie larkspur, Cottonwood, Sandbar willow, Sedge meadow

Animals

Bald eagle, Bobolink, Canada goose, Cinnamon teal, Blue-winged teal, Great blue heron, Interior least tern, Piping plover, Pintail, Sandhill cranes (seasonal), Snow goose, Whooping crane, Mule deer, Red fox, Jackrabbit, Black-tailed prairie dog, Tiger salamander, Western striped chorus frog, Softshelled turtle, Flathead chub, Plains topminnow