Ducks Unlimited has been conserving habitat in the Big Bend area of the Platte River in Nebraska for years. The river and its associated wetlands provide tremendous waterfowl habitat and ecosystem services to the region, and the Big Bend stretch of the river is home to the largest sandhill crane roost in the world. Longtime DU board member and Wetlands America Trust Trustee Doug Frey knows this area well. Originally from Nebraska, Doug has a strong interest in ensuring that the region’s wetlands are here and healthy for future generations.
“My mother suffered from a rare disorder that left her unable to walk,” Doug said. “We would regularly take car rides to check the crops and the countryside. Watching the spring migration became the highlight of the year for her.” During the migration, trips to see the cranes became a daily event for Doug and his mother.
DU has completed dozens of restoration and enhancement projects to improve wetland habitat along the Platte. In addition, DU holds conservation easements along the river and has facilitated acquisitions and easements on key parcels for partners including Nebraska Game and Parks, Audubon-Rowe Sanctuary, Prairie Plains Resource Institute, and Crane Trust over the last decade.
A unique opportunity arose to protect another key parcel, and Crane Trust requested DU’s assistance in acquiring the tract, which would complement nearby lands that were already protected. The 165-acre property, which is located just south of Grand Island, includes river frontage, sloughs, and wet meadow habitats that are heavily used by cranes and other waterbirds. There are habitat improvement opportunities, and the area provides additional space for Crane Trust to graze their substantial bison herd.
The acquisition opportunity was on a compressed timeline, with half of the funding already secured but soon to expire. When presented with the chance to support habitat protection in the area, Doug and his wife, Allison, did not hesitate. Ensuring that wild, open spaces are available for generations to enjoy is a hallmark of the Douglas and Allison Frey Foundation. Their past gifts have supported wetland conservation efforts in Nebraska’s Rainwater Basin, Canada’s Boreal Forest, the US Prairie Pothole Region, and Texas.
“We know there are mental and physical benefits from the relationship between man and nature,” Doug said. “The Frey family knows these benefits are particularly strong between people and cranes. I remember Mother saying, ‘When I watch them dance and fly and hear their call, I’m no longer bound to this earth. My spirit is free of this crippled body.’”