Our History

Our History

Looking back in time, the South Platte River once flowed over the current site of CPBS. This is confirmed by gravels found in the soil up on the ridge. The exposed faces of the canyons are composed of volcanic ash in many places. If you get the chance, take a walk with Dr. Robert Diffendal and listen to him explain the geological history of the site. It is a very informative, brisk walk.

Cedar Point in the Early 1900s

In more recent history, the site was used by Native Americans. The canyons are home to many game species they hunted for food and the North Platte River flowed nearby. At times, gazing across the prairie you can almost image a large herd of bison grazing as they migrated through the area. Both the California and Mormon trails were just across the river, so it is possible the immigrants came over to gather wood or hunt for meat. It is also possible that the large herds of cattle driven up the Texas Trail to the railroad in Ogallala would have used the site to feed and water before being loaded onto the railcars headed east.

In 1911 Dr. S. P. Gainsforth learned that there was homestead land available in the area. He applied for the land and moved his family to the site in 1912. They proved up on the homestead in 1919. Dr. Gainsforth was a graduate of Northwestern University's Dental School and opened an office in the nearby town of Ogallala. One day a week he rode horseback to the train station in Lemoyne on the north side of the river to catch the train to Lewellen where he also provided dental care.

In 1935, following the Dust Bowl era, plans were being made to build Kingsley Dam on the North Platte River. 320 acres of the Gainsforth crop land was needed for the project and subsequently sold to the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District. The dam would impound water of the North Platte to provide for irrigation of crops during the dry summer months in central Nebraska. That same year Dr. Gainsforth's son, Burdett, graduated from the University of Nebraska's Dental College. In 1940, Central condemned another 400 acres on the west side of the Gainsforth ranch. The Gainsforths' retained a permanent easement to pasture livestock on the property. During the Second World War, Dr. Burdett Gainsforth was assigned to teach Army and Navy dentists at the University of Iowa. In 1943 he married his bride, Myrna Scott, and following the war they returned to a private practice in Ogallala.

Girl Scouts in Tents

In 1949 Mrs. S. P. Gainsforth and Mrs. Robert Goodall decided to build a campsite for the Girl Scouts as a memorial to their husbands. The Burdett Gainsforth family was also part of this project. Over the next few years the lodge and about a dozen cabins were built. The gift to the Girl Scouts included a clause that stated if they stopped using the facility for camping it would revert to the donors, so in 1965 the property was returned to the family. For the next 10 years the camp was used intermittently by church and school groups.

In 1974, Dr. Gary Hergenrader of UNL led an annual limnology trip to Lake McConaughy and learned that the camp was for lease. Negotiations proceeded and the following year the 38 acre camp was leased and the first courses were held at Cedar Point Biological Station. There were many challenges in changing Cedar Point from a former Girl Scout Camp to a Biological Field Station, and early faculty and staff deserve a great deal of credit for the station's success. The Cooper Foundation assisted in providing grants for equipment needed.

Snake handling

In 1976, The Nature Conservancy purchased 1,280 acres, now called Arapaho Prairie, to be managed by Cedar Point expressly for the purpose of conducting research and course work. The original 38 acres were purchased by the University of Foundation in 1980. In 1981 the World Herald and Penstemon cabins were built with about half the funds coming from the Omaha World Herald.

Following the completion of the hydroelectric plant at Kingsley Dam, the Swallow Barn cabin was moved to Cedar Point. The former construction trailer was converted to a research lab. The steel building was erected at Arapaho Prairie and the Mesocosms were installed in 1988. Two years later construction of the Prickly Pear cabin took place. In 1993, the Lubber Lab was started with funds from the National Science Foundation. It was finished under budget, so NSF was contacted to seek permission to use the remaining funds for the Killifish housing unit and weather station.

In 1995, "Alligator Canyon" was purchased. No, there are no alligators in Nebraska; it is named due to the shape of a prominent rock formation within the canyon. In 1997 more of the Gainsforth property was purchased with the help of the Nebraska Environmental Trust; this made Cedar Point Biological Station more than 600 acres of land.

In 2000, the Gainsforths' donated the easement rights of the 400 acre property west of Cedar Point to UNL. Following this, the Midge house was added to the station and in 2002 the Gainsforth Resource Center was holding its first classes. The Gainsforth building was funded by the NSF FSML program and UNL. Recently, we have been able to build a new student wash house. We are currently seeking funds to renovate Goodall Lodge while keeping the personality and essence of the building intact.

No history would be complete without mentioning the people who have been vital to the success. A list of publications will give you a list of many important contributors. The directors, associate directors, and facilities managers are listed below. Without a top-notch staff much of the success would not have been possible. We thank them deeply for their efforts and dedication.

Finally, the support and hospitality of the local community is vital to our mission. They have given us access to unique, interesting, and breath-taking habitats that have been fundamental to our success.

DirectorsAssociate DirectorsFacilities Manager
Brent Nickol | 1975-1979 Linda Vesico | 1986-1991 Phil Dowling | 1975-1984
John Janovy Jr. | 1979-1986 Bill Scharf | 1991-1994 Ron Randall | 1985-1998
Tony Joern | 1986-1991 Joan Darling | 1995-1996 Roy Bailey | 1998-present
Kathy Keeler | 1991-1994 Mary Batterson | 1997-2000
John Janovy Jr. | 1994-1999 Rich Alward | 2000-2002
Al Kamil | 1999-2005 Rob Anderson | 2003-2008
Jean Knops | 2005-2018 Katie Potter (Wilson) | 2008-2009
John DeLong | 2018-Present Jon Garbisch | 2009-present