The 40-acre woodland at Homestead is classified as a mesic bur oak forest, a rare community type in Nebraska. Upon acquisition of the Freeman homestead by the National Park Service, much of the wooded area along Cub Creek had been heavily grazed, and most of the older trees had been harvested. However, approximately 20 acres of woodland remained undisturbed. In 1939, 10,000 oak and hackberry seedlings were planted in the most disturbed area of the woodland, and by the 1960’s, much of the forest had recovered.
Dominating the riparian woodland area are several species of oak, silver maple, hackberry, and eastern cottonwood. The understory contains species such as wood nettle, false nettle, wingstem, sedges, and Virginia wild rye. Shrubs and young trees are present mostly along woodland margins and include coralberry, oaks, elms, and black walnut.
Come Out of the Light…
At Homestead step into a still, dappled woodland world from the inescapable sunlight and relentless wind of the prairie. Feel the same smoothing relief as the homesteaders that settled in this area.
Their relief was not only physical but mental as well. This forest meant security. It gave homesteaders warmth, shelter and animals to hunt.
But this ribbon of lowland bur oak forest along Cub Creek and on the edge of the Great Plains was rare even then.
Help for a Forest on the Edge…
Just in this century, scientists of the National Park Service’s Heartland Inventory and Monitoring Program crawled all over this forest finding 116 types of plants and an overstory of 60 foot tall oaks with large spreading crowns.
Scientists have also revealed that this rare forest today is not the same as what American Indians and Homesteaders would have experienced. Over 140 years of tree cutting, grazing and lack of fire have changed this forest.
How do you think it has changed? It may not in the way you imagine. The bur oak forest at Homestead is bigger and denser than the forest of the past.
Forest At Ease…
Despite the changes this forest represents the best example of what settlers in Nebraska would have encountered. It is the edge of the world of tree to the east; a last creeping finger of shade.
Homesteaders’ relief came from how such forests eased the day to day struggle to survive. Today, can this forest give us more than just physical relief as well?
The lowland bur oak forest at Homestead is one of your best chances to take a trip into our natural past. Take the trip; hear the soft hoot of a barred owl; look up into a patchwork quilt of light through the leaves of a towering oak and see a rare forest being protected so it can just do what forests do. In a human world constantly manipulated and contrived see something real and natural. Let it ease your mind.
Last updated: February 27, 2021