Arbor Day, the holiday for tree planting, was created by J. Sterling Morton in 1872 as a way to further education about trees and nature, and to engage people in contributing to the environment through tree planting. Recognized as the world’s largest nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to planting trees, the Arbor Day Foundation is located in Nebraska City (pop. 7,289) and is a strong, thriving piece of the community. Nebraska City has embraced the Arbor Day Foundation and its goals of conservation as a part of the city’s identity. It is because of this that Nebraska City and the Arbor Day Foundation collaborated to renovate and expand the Arbor Day Farm and Lied Lodge and Convention Center, to increase access to resources about Arbor Day and conservation efforts.
Emily Bausch, Grant Administrator with the Southeast Nebraska Development District, was closely involved with the project and noted it was crucial because, “the Arbor Day Foundation is the third largest employer in Nebraska City. The Arbor Day Foundation’s ability to grow and expand is vital to the economic stability and vitality of Nebraska City.”
The scope of the project ranged from making technological improvements throughout the Lied Lodge and Arbor Day Farm to adding new features like the Enchanted Arboretum and Discovery Ride Depot. Other improvements included basic conference room renovations, trail area expansions at the Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure, and general building repairs.
The Discovery Ride Depot, located at the Tree Adventure, is a covered pavilion space that can be used to facilitate learning specifically about nature, conservation, and tree planting. The Enchanted Arboretum was a project strongly backed by the community that allowed professional artists and students to design about 60 ‘trees’ to be displayed throughout the community. The Enchanted Arboretum represented an opportunity for the community to engage in discussions about the importance of trees, along with fostering creative output.
As one of Nebraska City’s largest employers, the project created 10 new jobs, eight of which benefited those who classify as low-to-moderate income persons. More than just creating jobs, though, the project allowed the Nebraska City community to further align with its deep identification with Arbor Day.
The project lasted from May 2011, when the design for the Discovery Ride Depot began, until April 2013, when the grand opening for the Depot was held during Arbor Day weekend. The project received $300,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, with another $97,700 matched by the Arbor Day Foundation.