Outdoor Learning Area at the State Fair

Gazebo View 2013

VIDEO:  Grand Island Groundwater Guardian Team

The Grand Island Groundwater Guardian Team realized the potential of educating thousands of people about groundwater and its uses when we received 1st place through a national online contest held by Rain Bird: The Intelligent Use of Water Awards! That first place prize was $10,000 to implement features such as a rain garden, bioswale, gazebo, cedar tunnel, prairie maze, and trees. The project received 30,597 votes; about 1,000 more than any other project in the country.

The Outdoor Learning Area is designed to provide an attractive greenscape area for use by fairgoers while also providing educational opportunities regarding one of our most precious resources — groundwater. The area provides the community a stimulating place for play, learning, and environmental education– particularly water education.  Although the site is located at the Nebraska State Fairgrounds, the Outdoor Learning Area is available year-round to allow educators and the public an educational, leisurely place to enjoy nature.  Local educators have used the area to educate students about butterfly migration and GPS technology.  In 2015, the site was selected as a Great Park Pursuit location from May-September.  The Outdoor Learning Area had 536 team members visit the site for the Great Park Pursuit.

NEW IN 2018! The Groundwater Guardian Team and Central Platte NRD have an example of a life-size Bald Eagle’s nest & eggs on display with some fun facts about Bald Eagles. Also use new stepping stones embedded with 12 Nebraska wildlife tracks to connect from UNL’s Raising Nebraska area to the Groundwater Guardians rain garden, newly seeded Buffalo grass, and the native prairie areas. Also new is a Tree Ring Display with several native Nebraska tree rings and a sign to learn how to read rings to determine a tree’s history.

NRDS @ STATE FAIR Hey – why not enjoy some time in the sand while you’re at the Nebraska State Fair? Nebraska’s Natural Resources Districts (NRDs) will have a Stream Table (Sandbox) set up for you. Playing in the sand while learning what makes water move in a watershed. Participate in making stream flows, energy, and learn about different types of river systems.
Find us near the Gazebo in the Family Fun Zone at the Groundwater Guardians’ Outdoor Learning Area.
NRD staff from across the state will be presenting the Stream Table for the duration of the Fair from August 24th – September 3rd.

AWARD  The Grand Island Groundwater Guardian Team received a Community Beautification Award from the Hall County Regional Planning Commision in October 2016.  The award recognizes the Outdoor Learning Area as a place to beautify and improve the community.

GROUNDBREAKING  A groundbreaking ceremony was held on Friday, August 31, 2012. Jack Vetter, Vetter Health Systems, was a guest at the groundbreaking ceremony. Vetter matched the online contest that the Guardians won from Rain Bird: The Intelligent Use of Water Awards.

FUNDING  After receiving the initial $10,000 from the online voting, the Guardians also acquired $47,500 in other grants from Vetter Health Services, Water For The West, Waterwise (NE Environmental Trust), Fonner Park, City of Grand Island and Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality.  The project would not have been possible without the support of Fonner Park, the Nebraska State Fair. The Grand Island Youth Leadership and Roots & Shoots have donated plants and their time to enhance the site.

GWG LogoGI TeamGWG TEAM  The Grand Island Groundwater Guardian Team is a local volunteer group whose purpose is to educate the public about the importance of groundwater.
Members:  Roger Andrews, retired-Bureau of Reclamation; Larry Cast, retired-Bureau of Reclamation; Duane Woodward, retired hydrologist-Central Platte NRD; Julie Frandsen,  Grand Island Utilities Dept; Elizabeth Killinger, UNL Extension Educator; Mike Kube, retired-Bureau of Reclamation; Ken Gnadt,  Former Mayor of City of Grand Island; Marcia Lee, Central Platte Natural Resources District; Gary Mader, retired-Grand Island Utilities Department;  Denise McGovern-Gallagher, Grand Island Area Clean Community System; Milt Moravek, Retired-Central Platte Natural Resources District; Patsy Steenson- Retired Elementary Educator.   OLA Project Director: Gary Mader

For information on activities available at the Outdoor Learning Area, or information on getting involved in the Groundwater Guardian project contact:
                            Marcia Lee   Elizabeth Killinger

PROJECT GOALS:Yellowflower July2013
~To educate the public about water quantity, water quality and stewardship of water resources.
~To educate the public on various types of vegetation and water uses across the state of Nebraska.
~To educate the public on natural filtration techniques.
~To educate the public on efficient water use.
~To educate the public about the Ogallala Aquifer.

Why? Increasing numbers of both children and adults are losing contact with the natural world. Reasons include the rapid growth of domestic air-conditioning since the 1950s; apprehensive parents who keep their children close to home; state-mandated curricula that do not allow time for study outdoors; and the overly-structured, hurried lifestyle of many people today.


Plan View2012.pdfRain Garden: The rain garden is a planted depression that allows rainwater runoff to be absorbed from impervious urban areas like roofs, driveways, walkways, parking lots, and compacted lawn areas. The public would be educated on how this reduces rain runoff by allowing stormwater to soak into the ground, as opposed to flowing into storm drains and surface waters which causes erosion, water pollution, flooding, and diminished groundwater. It will be designed for Nebraska-specific soils and climate. Native plants from all areas of Nebraska have been used because they don’t require fertilizer andare more tolerant of the local climate, soil, and water conditions. They also attract local wildlife such as native birds and butterflies. The plants include a selection of wetland edge vegetation, such as wildflowers, sedges, rushes, ferns, shrubs and small trees— will take up excess water flowing into the rain garden. Water filters through soil layers before entering the groundwater system. (See photos & descriptions below.) The site shows how the root systems enhance infiltration, maintain or even augment soil permeability, provide moisture redistribution, and sustain diverse microbial populations involved in biofiltration. Also, through the process of transpiration, rain garden plants return water vapor to the atmosphere.

Bioswale: This landscape element is designed to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water.The location is near a swaled drainage area (a sidewalk) and includes gently sloped sides filled with vegetation, compost and riprap. The water’s flow path, along with the wide and shallow ditch, is designed to maximize the time water spends in the swale, which aids the trapping of pollutants and silt.

Gazebo: The gazebo provides seating for a classroom setting and resting area.  The structure includes gutters and a rain barrell to educate about gutters, rain barrels and grass pavers.

Kids Tepee: This natural play feature was installed in July 2013 and will use flowering vines to cover the tepee structure, creating a space for children to play and learn about plants, vines and shade.

Prairie Restoration: This area looks a little rough right now until the restoration has completed the ‘weedy process;’ which takes about 5 years. Planted by the Prairie Plains Resources Institute, this area will combine natural play feature with a need to cover a low area on the site with something other than turf. The prairie grass and forbe roots help add structure to the soil and improve water infiltration over time. Simply mowing paths through the area will allow children to have the experience of running through the tall prairie grasses. The restoration process will take about five years to complete.

Areas Near the Outdoor Learning Area

4-H Building: During the State Fair, the 4-H building has several events. The remainder of the year, the building is utilized as a sports field house with baseball & softball cages, basketball courts, volleyball courts, soccer fields and a kids play area.

Raising Nebraska Building: This 50,000 square-foot building is just west of the outdoor learning area. It is two stories high with exhibition space on the ground floor and the Nebraska State Fair administrative offices on the second floor. It also features a museum area with information and artifacts from the past 144 years of the fair. The Department of Agriculture and the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission share the lower floor with meeting space available on the top floor. The Dept. of Agriculture’s interactive, technology-based displays promote agriculture in Nebraska and is available for use year-round. The display has been described as a Smithsonian-type display with simulators and videos.

Family Fun Center: During the State Fair, the Family Fun Activity Center is located under a large tent in the Family Fun Activity Center and provides all-day games, sanctioned games & competitions, a daily food eating contest, Make-and-Take activities, and much more for children of all ages. Butterfly adventures, which is an educational environment where people can interact with butterflies of many different species will be held daily in the Family Fun Zone, as well as The Pirates of the Colombian Caribbean Aerial High Wire Thrill Show, which is a daily grounds entertainment act with multiple showings a day.  Nebraska State Fair website