Nebraska July 28, 2019
The Largest Man-Made Forest In The U.S. Is In Nebraska And It’s A Unique Place To Visit
Nebraska’s reputation as a treeless wasteland is quickly disproven when one begins to explore our vastly varied landscapes. In the middle of the rolling Sandhills is a remarkable, unexpected place that exists solely due to the determination of one man.
The Sandhills of Nebraska were, indeed, once a vast expanse of grass-covered sand dunes with a distinct lack of trees. After all, what could possibly grow in this "wasteland," as it was once called?
Botanist Dr. Charles E. Bessey of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln believed that these undulating waves of sand could sustain large numbers of trees. He set out to prove his theory by hand-planting more than 13,000 trees near Thedford.
Although Dr. Bessey's plan initially faltered due to lack of funding, many of those original trees thrived in the improbable landscape. The land was eventually designated a National Forest Preserve. At the time, the trees were scant and the project seemed dubious, but in 1902, 20,000 acres were dedicated to the effort by President Teddy Roosevelt.
Botanists took up the mission begun by Dr. Bessey and began planting in earnest. The coniferous trees took root and grew into a healthy (if less dense than most) forest. At one time, the Nebraska National Forest was the largest hand-planted forest in the world. Today it still holds the distinction of being the largest of its kind in the western hemisphere.
The forest that faltered at the beginning of the 20th century is now a thriving natural area. It's a treed oasis in the midst of the rolling waves that are the Sandhills.
The area is now popular with outdoors enthusiasts. Driving through the forest is a calming experience, and this is the perfect place to camp away from civilization. It's not so heavily trafficked that you'll have to vie for space, but it's near enough to the towns of Halsey and Thedford that you won't feel completely cut off.
Camping, hiking, and fishing are a few of the most popular activities out here. For those who are fit enough to climb to the top, the Scott Lookout Tower offers some of the most incredible views in the state.
You can look out over miles and miles of the forest from up here. It gives a more tangible idea of just how much work has gone into creating and nurturing this place.
The Nebraska National Forest Bessey Ranger District is open year-round. Camping reservations are accepted for about half of the camping sites from May to September each year. The rest are first-come, first-served, but the US Forest Service says that they have never had to turn away campers due to lack of space.
Address: 40637 River Loop, Halsey, NE 69142
Admission is always free, though there are fees for camping. Visit the Nebraska Natural Forest Bessey Ranger District any time of the year, though some activities are restricted in the winter months. To find out more about this truly remarkable place, view the Forest Service’s site