Bluebirds at Blue Springs

An effort is underway to maintain a habitat for bluebirds along the Chief Standing Bear Trail in southeast Nebraska.

When you see a golf cart on the Chief Standing Bear Trail at Blue Springs, you can be pretty sure it's Maurice Cullison and his friend Xander Seeman checking bluebird boxes. Maurice is keeping records of the bluebirds along the trail, but he needed help. Wymore Southern 7th Grader Xander Seeman was happy to lend a hand. "He's been my helper. He's been my legs," Cullison said. Seeman says he enjoys the work, and being outdoors. "We go to the bird houses and then we'll stop, we go check it, pull the nail out, open the house, and we write down if there were eggs, or a nest, or grass or babies," Seeman said.

The work of Maurice and Xander is just one part of the story of how this trail is being developed as a habitat for bluebirds. Bluebird and trail enthusiast Dean Cole says the Chief Standing Bear Trail was once an abandoned rail line. "In 2000, the Nebraska trails foundation took over ownership of this abandoned line hopefully to develop a hiker-biker trail," Cole said. "Nothing was really done on the trail until 2015, when they got funds, and the Ponca tribe of Nebraska agreed to be a sponsor of this hiker-biker trail." A few years later, the Ponca tribe took official ownership of the Chief Standing Bear Trail. It's meaningful because part of the trail is where Ponca members walked when being forced into Oklahoma in the 1870's.

The effort to bring bluebirds to the trail started with the vision of three families. "One of those visionaries was a lady by the name of Sharon Holliday and her husband Doc," Cole said. "They lived nearby at what they call Riverside Farm." Sharon established bluebird boxes along the trail, which her son remembers. "My brother built a bluebird box," Kevin Holliday said. "We were able to put it on site, and within 15 minutes we had a bluebird on that box." Kenneth and JoAnn Barnhill are also credited with putting boxes along the trail around Barneston, and bluebirders Bill and Bert Hellmer also put up boxes in the area.

"When the tribe and the Homestead Conservation Network took over the trail, Mrs. Holliday died of cancer," Cole said. But her passing did not signal the end of her work. Maurice Cullison began working to promote the bluebird boxes on the trail. "He approached the Homestead Conservation Network, and I approached the Ponca tribe, and they thought this was an excellent idea. Also, Bluebirds Across Nebraska thought this was great, too."

Now, the boxes are maintained by people like Maurice Cullison and Xander Seeman. In addition, a memorial is in place for the families that had the vision to support the bluebirds. "It's a great memorial place for mom. She talked about the Chief Standing Bear Trail before she passed," Kevin Holliday said. "She was excited about that."

Volunteers who are working with the bluebirds on the trail are also trying to include other attractions. "We are working with Nebraska Arboretum who is assisting us in bringing back old native hardwood trees," Cole said. The goal is to make this trail a place for the public to experience nature.

So, the next time you see a golf cart on the trail at Blue Springs, it's probably Maurice Cullison and Xander Seeman, keeping records and making memories.