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Travels in the Heartland: Exploring Nebraska City

Make it a day trip or weekend excursion
Memorial Way Park Nebraska City
Visitors check out the Nature Explore Classroom at Arbor Day Far.JPG
Tortoise and hare wooden sculptures along the South Table Creek trail..JPG
Posted at 1:31 PM, Jun 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-18 14:31:27-04

NEBRASKA CITY, Neb. (KMTV) — If you think the only time to visit Nebraska City is during apple harvest season, think again. The Otoe County community is ripe for a day trip or a weekend getaway any time of the year. Between Arbor Day Farm, the Lewis and Clark Visitor Center and Arbor Lodge Mansion, there’s plenty to explore beyond the apple trees.

We thought the time was right for a return visit to the home of Arbor Day, after a couple of years since our last trip. We took in a couple of new things (to us) and rekindled old memories with some of our favorite attractions.

Kari Halweg, Selah Halweg and Matthew Halweg, all of Elkhorn, play on the seesaw at Nature Explore Classroom..JPG
Kari Halweg, Selah Halweg and Matthew Halweg, all of Elkhorn, play on the seesaw at Nature Explore Classroom.

Treetop Village at Arbor Day Farm

With a 50-foot tall treehouse as its anchor, you’ll gradually climb above the densely wooded area at Arbor Day Farm’s Treetop Village as you encounter 11 elevated treehouses, each offering unique experiences over three acres. From suspension bridges to wooden ladders, kids of all ages (and since we covered the village, I do mean kids of all ages) have fun navigating their way around the forested village. As you explore the area, you’ll have a couple of options to continue your adventures – either traverse a trampoline or ride a netted slide that takes you to ground level.

I recommend taking the route across the trampoline, which will entice you to do a little jumping or, in the case of someone who shall remain unnamed (my wife, Lisa), slowly move across the thick rubber surface, slightly bouncing as she made her way to the next platform. We watched as a couple of young boys have fun bouncing around the trampoline before heading down the slide.

Lisa crosses one of the suspension bridges at Treetop Village..JPG
Lisa Trudell crosses one of the suspension bridges at Treetop Village.

The 50-foot treehouse was once the star attraction of the apple farm, but now it offers an outstanding spot to view the village. You never know if a bird will land on the branch in front of you (spoiler alert: we weren’t so lucky). However, the view from the top is magnificent; looking over treetops and watching others make their way through the village.

Your Treetop Village visit is capped as you cross a narrow, 70-foot-long suspension bridge that will challenge the strongest-hearted adventurer. There are easier exits if you prefer.

While at Arbor Day Farm, check out the other activities, such as the Nature Explore Classroom, which encourages people to learn about the area around them through activities, such as a giant xylophone, a spider web made from rope and an old-fashioned wooden seesaw. A honeycomb exhibit highlights a visit to the trail’s pollinator section.

The trampoline area in Treetop Village..JPG
The trampoline area in Treetop Village

While at the farm, enjoy a hike along the easy-to-navigate South Table Creek trail, which covers about two-thirds of a mile. Along the way, you’ll cross a creek and see interesting attractions, including three giant chairs, which may remind you of “Goldie Locks and the Three Bears.” Wooden carved sculptures highlighting the area’s nature are also located along the trail.

Before leaving, check out the exhibit at the visitor center that showcases the history of Arbor Day.

Morton Salt mural on Central Avenue..JPG
Morton Salt mural on Central Avenue

Historical Mural Tour

Downtown Nebraska City honors its past with a set of murals along Central Avenue. From celebrating the city’s history at Memorial Way to a mural celebrating the Morton Salt legacy, enjoy a stroll as you check out about a dozen murals. Memorial Way, located between 8th and 9th Streets, recognizes the city’s history from its Indigenous residents to its days as a riverboat port on the Missouri River. On the north end of the park, a mural honors the men and women who have served during each of the country’s wars.

Joy Morton, the eldest Morton son, founded Morton Salt Company. Another mural celebrates Argo Corn Starch, which was founded by Carl Morton, the third Morton son.

Stop by First Class Flowers and Gifts for a list of the murals and their locations. If you are participating in the 2021 Nebraska Passport program, they’ll happily stamp the book for you.

A view of the Otoe County Courthouse near downtown Nebraska City..JPG
A view of the Otoe County Courthouse near downtown Nebraska City

While hunting for the murals, check out the downtown architecture, including the Otoe County Courthouse, which is one of our favorite views in the state.

Arbor Lodge Mansion

Located at Arbor Lodge State Historical Park, Arbor Lodge Mansion was the home of the Morton family. Originally built as a four-room cabin by J. Sterling Morton, the family expanded the home over the years. By the time son Joy finished the work, the mansion had 52 rooms, including a bowling alley in the basement. Arbor Lodge was designed to resemble the White House in Washington, DC. The estate also includes a carriage house and terrace garden.

Arbor Lodge Mansion was once home to J. Sterling Morton's family..JPG
Arbor Lodge Mansion was once home to J. Sterling Morton's family

Spend some time touring the mansion’s grounds, which extend into the state park. You’ll find flowers, bushes, and, of course, plenty of trees, since J. Sterling Morton founded Arbor Day in Nebraska City. You’ll find a statue of the one-time newspaper editor and United States agriculture secretary near the park’s entrance. Morton also served as Nebraska’s territorial acting governor for 11 days in 1861.

A Nebraska state parks permit is required for entry to Arbor Lodge State Historical Park.

Kregel Windmill Factory Museum

A look inside the Kregel Windmill Factory Museum's assembly area..JPG
A look inside the Kregel Windmill Factory Museum's assembly area.

The last wooden windmill factory in the United States, the Kregel Windmill Factory built windmills for water wells during the early to mid-1900s. The Kregel Windmill Factory Museum offers a firsthand look at the assembly area where employees completed their section of the windmill.

Missouri River Basin Lewis and Clark Visitor Center

Located on nearly 80 acres of land overlooking the Missouri River, the Lewis and Clark Visitors Center focuses on animals and plants the Corps of Discovery came across during their 1804-06 expedition. With exhibits featuring bison, bears and prairie dogs, as well as a variety of plants including prairie grass, the three-story attraction offers a look at the science involved with the exploration. The visitors center also includes replicas of the keelboat and pirogue used as the Corps traveled upriver.

Bison exhibit at Lewis and Clark Visitors Center..JPG
Bison exhibit at Lewis and Clark Visitors Center.

With about five miles of trails, you can explore the area just like Lewis and Clark did when they camped in the area. You can take in views of the Missouri River valley on the River Overlook Trail, which takes you from the visitors center to a bluff above the river.

Whether you’re interested in outdoor activities, history or culture, you can check off each of those items during a day trip to Nebraska City. After exploring Nebraska City, you’ll have a craving to plan another visit.

Read more about the Trudells and see other Travels in the Heartland stories.

Visit The Walking Tourists website: thewalkingtourists.com

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