Fontenelle Forest (once known as Fontenelle Forest Association and Fontenelle Nature Association) began in 1910 when Dr. A.A. Tyler and Dr. Harold Gifford, Sr formed a team of area scholars and businessmen. The group’s mission was to preserve the beautiful lands along the Missouri River just south of Omaha. In 1913, eight years before the beginning of Nebraska's state parks system, Fontenelle Forest Association was officially formed. With the interruption of World War I, it took until 1920 to raise $60,000 to buy the first tract of over 300 acres of land.
In the years since, FF’s facilities have been expanded, and the educational offerings have grown and diversified. The total land area owned and managed has expanded to approximately 2,000 acres. In 2000, Fontenelle Forest Association officially changed its name to Fontenelle Nature Association. This change was intended to create more of an "umbrella" title for the organization, inclusive of all facilities and major projects. In 2012, Fontenelle Nature Association changed its name back to Fontenelle Forest.
Today, Fontenelle Forest's lands encompass one of the largest natural deciduous forests in Nebraska. Fontenelle Forest is listed as a National Natural Landmark and a National Historic District by the United States Department of the Interior, and the State of Nebraska officially designates its upland and lowland forests as ‘very rare’ ecosystems.
Evidence uncovered and preserved by amateur archaeologist Robert F. Gilder in the early 20th century shows that diverse Native American cultures flourished here during the Nebraska Phase of the Woodland period (1100 - 1400 AD). Over 70 earth lodges - large, bowl-like depressions that once housed farming peoples - can be found along the river bluffs of eastern Nebraska and western Iowa.
In 1804, the Lewis and Clark Expedition undoubtedly crossed our lands, and in 1822, Joshua Pilcher of the Missouri Fur Company built a trading post near the present Great Marsh. This trading post began the settlement of Bellevue, Nebraska's oldest community, and served as a major stopover during the illustrious days of the Rocky Mountain fur trade.
In 1828, Pilcher's Post was purchased by Lucien Fontenelle, a French-American fur trader. Later it was used as an Indian Agency headquarter by the U.S. government. One of the interpreters at this Agency was Logan Fontenelle, one of five children of Lucien Fontenelle and Omaha tribe member Me-um-bane. Logan Fontenelle was raised in both cultures and became a highly respected spokesman for the Omaha tribe before his death at age 30 at the hands of a Sioux war party. Both Lucien and Logan Fontenelle are buried on FF property, though the exact site has never been located. It is officially Logan for whom the Forest is named.
In 1998, 82-acre Camp Brewster was purchased from the Metro Omaha YWCA. This acquisition was spearheaded by Amy Willer and supported by generous contributions from the Willer Foundation and the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund. This land connects to the existing Forest and provides space for special events and educational activities.
Fontenelle Forest Nature Center, also known as The Katherine and Fred Buffett Forest Learning Center, opened in October 2000 as the primary facility of Fontenelle Forest Nature Center. This 25,000-square-foot building provides space for school programs, public education events and private events.
The Gilbert and Martha Hitchcock Wetlands Learning Center opened in the spring of 1999 and is located two miles from Fontenelle Forest Nature Center. This satellite building provides educational spaces adjacent to the Gifford Memorial Boardwalk, a 3/8-mile path that leads to a two-story observation tower overlooking the Great Marsh.
In 1995, the Lozier Foundation helped FF buy the Krimlofski Tract, adding 262 acres to Neale Woods and directly connecting the forest to the Missouri River. The land included a small pond and stream, a section of bluffs and about one mile of river frontage, as well as Fort Lisa, fur trader Manuel Lisa's 1812 outpost. FF hopes to eventually sponsor additional excavations to learn more about this historically significant trading post.
In 1971, Edith Neale donated 120 acres of north Omaha land that her father had homesteaded in the mid-1800s, marking the beginning of our Neale Woods location. Another 60 acres of contiguous land was donated by Carl Jonas, whose father had been a founding member of FF. Bequests from Jonas' estate also allowed the purchase of 112 additional acres; 25 of these acres were cleared and planted as prairies, thought to be representative of the land in the mid-1800s. Jonas' former home serves as the current Neale Woods Nature Center.