Located in Ashland, Nebraska, the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari is a venture of Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, housing a 440-acre drive-through safari park showcasing native animals of North American prairie and wetlands environments. The Henry Doorly Zoo was opened in 1894 by the City of Omaha as the Riverview Park Zoo.
In 1952, the Omaha Zoological Society was created to assist city management of the zoo facility due to increases in animal population and attendance. The zoo was renamed the Henry Doorly Zoo in 1963 to honor the financial contributions of major donor Margaret Hitchcock Doorly, who contributed $750,000 to the zoo in honor of her late husband. Following Doorly’s donation and subsequent zoo renovations, the Omaha Zoological Society was reorganized into a nonprofit association to oversee maintenance of the zoo for the city, serving to establish and promote recreation, educational, and conservation programs and research initiative to spread awareness of nature to Omaha citizens and protect the ecosystems of the Great Plains.
In June 1998, the Henry Doorly Zoo opened the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari, constructed at a cost of $3.5 million. Designed as a drive-through safari habitat, the park focuses on North American species native to prairie and wetland ecosystems, including black bears, bison, elk, wolves, and eagles. As a partner facility for the Henry Doorly Zoo, the park was intended both as a visitor attraction and an off-season temporary housing facility for main zoo animals in transition between exhibits. In 2000, a number of sculptures and trails were added to the park, along with a new bridge along the park’s drive-through route. An Eagle Aviary was added to the park in 2010, and in 2013, the Crane Meadows Viewing Tower was erected. In 2014, the park began programs for cheetah breeding, and in 2016, the park announced plans for an upcoming major facility renovation.
Permanent Exhibits and Animals
Today, the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari welcomes 143,000 annual visitors to its 440-acre scenic drive-through park, located 22 miles west of the Henry Doorly Zoo in nearby Ashland. The park is open daily between April and October, with limited seasonal hours on weekends throughout November, weather-permitting. A Visitor Center serves as an entrance point for the park, offering concessions, a gift shop, a playground for young visitors, and an exhibit dedicated to small mammal and bird species of the Great Plains.
At the beginning of the drive-through tour, a 50-acre Elk Prairie exhibit showcases American elk in a natural prairie grasslands habitat. The 10-acre Deer Woods exhibit is home to North American white-tailed deer, and the 40-acre Bison Plains exhibit is split between woodland and prairie habitats. At the Wolf Canyon exhibit, gray wolves and American black bears are on display, along with aviaries showcasing barn owls, screech owls, and kestrels and a Hands-On Corral allowing for up-close experiences with goats and chickens. An Eagle Aviary exhibit features American bald eagles on loan from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Pelican Wetlands exhibit is home to American white pelicans, great blue heron, wood ducks, and American coot. The 12-acre Crane Meadows exhibit is anchored by the Crane Meadows Viewing Tower, which was constructed from recovered news media towers used at nearby Rosenblatt Stadium.
For the safety of animals and visitors, the park’s drive-through road enforces a speed limit of seven miles per hour, with designated pull-off areas for up-close observation of animal habitats. Motorcycles, semi-trucks, and bikes are prohibited within the park, and visitors may not ride on the outside bed of pickup trucks. Smoking, littering, and feeding animals is also strictly prohibited. Visitors may also explore two miles of hiking trail areas on foot, including Wolf Woods and Frog Lake.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Group tour rates are offered for groups of 30 visitors or more, including field trip opportunities for elementary and secondary school groups. Educational student workshops are also offered for student groups in grades 6-12, designed to expand students’ critical thinking and problem solving skills through experiences with park animals, including work with the park’s amphibian conservation initiative. A variety of family camps and adult course workshops are offered, including Photo Explorer groups, Art on the Plains workshops, and Wildlife Ranger Day Camps. Overnight campout opportunities are offered for young visitors and families, providing participants opportunities to camp in natural settings and learn about Nebraska wildlife. Haunted Safari campouts are offered during the fall season, including night hiking opportunities.
16406 N. 292 Street,Ashland, NE 68003