Monday, October 22, 2007

Forest For The Trees ...

I am not the "outdoorsy" type at all! You can say that my idea of "roughing it" is staying at a hotel without cable TV!

However, over the past few years I've enjoyed taking casual leisurely hikes in Fontenelle Forest, just south of Omaha along the bank of the Missouri River.

Fontenelle Forest is a private forest preserve, founded by a group of environmentalists in the early 20th. century, and now operated by the nonprofit Fontenelle Nature Association. (Fontenelle Nature Association actually came about when the founders were turned down on their request to have Fontenelle Forest become the first Nebraska State Park.)

Fontenelle Forest (as well as countless other things "Fontenelle") is named after Chief Logan Fontenelle of the Omaha Tribe.

Chief Fontenelle is considered to be the last of the Great Chiefs of the Omaha tribe.

Logan was the son of a French fur trader and a Native American mother. He was killed in battle at the early age of 30, shortly after his election as Chief.

Logan is buried, along with his parents and brother, within the preserve, but the exact burial location is unknown. Granite markers along History Trail denote the approximate location.

Fontenelle Forest has two distinct sections, the uplands and the wetlands, divided roughly by the BNSF tracks. The uplands consist mainly of dense, hilly old-growth forest. The wetlands are a mixture of hardwood savanna and grassy marsh areas.

Visitors to the Forest are most familiar with the uplands, and the mile-long double-figure-8 Riverview Boardwalk, one of two equal-access trails in the forest complex.

This, however, is only the tip of the iceberg, or in this case the northmost tip of the forest!

Well-marked and well-maintained trails and paths make up most of the Uplands.

Some are terraced, making for a leisurely time on the hills. Others are more challenging!

And some are more challenging after a good rain! :)

The wet gullies are mostly bridged.

Although parts of the Upland South section were logged by the settlers of nearby Bellevue, Nebraska, the Forest is considered to be the largest unbroken old-growth forest tract within several states!

There are concrete mountains in the city ...

The tallest peaks of the Omaha skyline are visible from the Riverview Boardwalk in the distance above the hills.

Old Man of the Forest ...

Upland South was, for decades, the home of Jim Baldwin, who had a homestead encampment in the hills above Hidden Lake. Although Jim was a reclusive hermit, he was very congenial and was popular with hikers and campers. Baldwin remained in the forest until the 1960s under a "gentlemens' agreement" with the Fontenelle Nature Association, until he was no longer able to care for himself and reluctantly moved to the city to live with relatives.

Many artifacts of Baldwin's forest life still exist in the vicinity of his encampment.

Gifford Road bisects the uplands ...

...leading to the wetlands.

The Gifford Memorial Boardwalk leads from the Wetlands Learning Center to an observation blind on the north bank of the Great Marsh.

Hidden Lake is an estuary at high water -- its level follows the stage of the river. At low water it becomes a true lake. There is evidence (click diagram to enlarge) that both ends of Hidden Lake once connected to the river channel.

Evidence of something (bridge?) once crossing Hidden Lake? There's nothing obvious of a path or road.

Fallen trees, mossy ponds, rickety bridges, reeds, rushes, cat-tails, lilly pads, all abound in the Wetlands.

The keepers of the Forest prefer to let nature take its course -- there is very little human intervention!

"Incredibly scenic" is an understatement when describing the Wetlands!

Wildlife up close!

Two juvenile raccoons posed for me along the banks of the Great Marsh. I'm very surprised that they let me get this close. These were taken with a normal lens. They were incredibly tame! They seemed to be just as curious of me as I was of them. :)

Wild turkeys (I assume that's what they are) :) scramble across my path without warning! They vanish quickly into the underbrush.

But wait -- there's more! :)

I didn't mean to come off as a walking-talking infomercial for Fontenelle Forest, but ...

... for further information, visit:

Operators are standing by now!


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful hike my family had on this beautiful Labor Day 2009. Jenny, Ashley, and Jay are from Kansas City, Missouri and couldn't agree more with the hidden treasures of the forest! Visit this place!

Jack Johnson said...

My brother and I visited "Jim the Hermit" (as we called him) back in the early 50's and he showed us his cave and gave us a piece of mud from his beard for good luck!
Jack I. Johnson
Zephyrhills, FL

regansays said...

Jack, I spend a lot of time at Fontenelle and would love to hear more about Jim and the cave. I don't know how to get in touch with you, though. If you happen to see this response, please post another comment and let me know how best to get in touch.. Thank you!!

Omababe said...

>and he showed us his cave

Hmmmm ... I was unaware of any cave. It wasn't obvious from looking around a bit when I last ventured into the area. It was very obvious that there once was some human activity in the area but a cave entrance was not obvious.

Connie Elaine Remkus said...

Hi. You have the picture of Hermit Jim on your blog. Did you take the picture or get it from somewhere else. The reason is, I am in the picture, and 2 of my childhood girlfriends are there also. And I wanted to find out where and who took the picture, just to make sure it is me. The picture is from the 1950's, so I am much older. Thanks for contacting me. Connie Remkus

Martha Ann Kennedy said...

This was so wonderful. I lived in Bellevue as a kid (1960/66) and the southern end of this forest was my playground.