Wilderness Park is Lincoln’s largest city park located on the southwest edge of Lincoln. It is a natural riparian corridor winding along Salt Creek encompassing almost 1,500 acres in a narrow strip 13 miles long that is mostly wooded with areas of meadows and clearings.
Wilderness Park has a long history of use by humans going back to native people who were nomadic and also constructed earth lodges on the east-central part of the Great Plains. Early settlers used the area for farming and ranching, and, in the early 19th century, for recreation.
Today, Wilderness Park provides many miles of hiking-biking-equestrian trails and opportunities to explore and connect with nature along with physical activity. In addition, the park provides essential ecosystem services to the Lincoln urban area that benefit all living creatures. Ecosystem services are those processes on which humans depend that are provided free by nature and are not easily duplicated. Wilderness Park ecosystem services include:
- Wildlife habitat for birds, mammals, and invertebrates that are part of a natural food web contributing to system stability
- Shelter for migrating bird species and a corridor for movement of wildlife
- Intercepts rain and snow and stores moisture
- Green plants provide oxygen and filter out dust and odors
- Forest trees mitigate the force of strong winds
- Vegetation slows water runoff, allows soil to settle out, and reduces danger of floods
- Meandering streams slow surface water flow, increase infiltration into the ground water, trap sediment, and detoxify chemical contaminants
- Biodiverse habitats provide a natural home for predators, parasites, and a diverse insect community that improves plant pollination
- Woody plants, grasses, and wildflowers in natural plant communities provide educational opportunities, as well as contribute to psychological well-being
We are fortunate that some forty years ago, Lincoln citizens and officials collaborated to preserve this wilderness, protect it from urbanization, and incorporate it into the Lincoln Parks and Recreation system. By necessity, a few parts of Wilderness Park have been altered with road and bridge construction, but for the most part it functions well as a green space nestled near the city.