AWG Correspondent

Mark and Sonja

Arbor Day Farm Photos

Arbor Day Farm Review

Region: Nebraska

Reviewed: December 28, 2016 by Mark and Sonja
Published: July 25, 2017

As a boy, one of my favorite stories was that of The Lorax by Theodor Geisel, better known to most of us as Dr. Seuss. The story resonated with my boyhood self well into adolescence, in part perhaps because of the whimsical, furry little Muppet-like protagonist I’d grown to adore, and in part I think because of that orange little wombat-looking thing’s noble arborist mission. The Lorax “speaks for the trees” and, though unsuccessful, defends them against the greedy, capitalistic evils of the world to the very end. During my boyhood era, my father’s bright orange 1975 Honda Civic bore a bumper sticker that read “Trees Please” and, looking back on it, I’m surprised it never donned on me then to name that thing “The Lorax.” Trees mattered to my father, who had grown up on the ranch homesteaded by his father, protected from the elements only by hand-planted windbreaks, and by extension they mattered to me; on more than one occasion, my father lead class field trips when I was in elementary school, as together my classmates and I would plant a windbreak somewhere on Arbor Day. As a teenager, I took a job at a 4-H Camp in Halsey, Nebraska, where the largest hand-planted forest in the world is located, sometimes reciting lines from The Lorax to campers (or unsuspecting colleagues) as I basked in the glory of my lush green environs.

Though the inexperienced and poorly educated still consider, and sometimes refer to, Nebraska as a “fly over” state, the reality is that, while indeed flat, Nebraska is a lush, fertile oasis, brimming with grasslands, crops, and tree-covered hillsides. But, of course, it wasn’t always this way. In 1854, shortly after his marriage, J. Sterling Morton moved from Michigan where he went to university to Nebraska, where he bought land and worked as a newspaper editor. He served in the political and the local cultural spheres for most of his life, serving as acting governor of the Nebraska territories from 1858 to 1859, and as President Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of Agriculture from 1893 to 1897. A passionate and knowledgeable agriculturalist who found himself living in a place where trees could protect people from the harsh natural elements yet were notably scarce outside the river valleys, Morton founded Arbor Day in 1872, a holiday that is still celebrated in Nebraska and around the rest of the United States.

Today, “Home of Arbor Day” can be read on most of the signs leading into the state of Nebraska. Nebraska City, a short jaunt south of Omaha or east of Lincoln, not far from the borders of Missouri, Iowa, and Kansas in the southeastern corner of the state is home to the Arbor Day Lodge. A towering structure that sits atop a hill and is fittingly surrounded by beautiful trees, it looks as if it would be better suited for the mountains of Colorado than the relative flatness of Nebraska. With its mammoth stone fireplace, rustic wooden beams and adornments, and open-air feel, it reminds me more of a ski lodge than of any other structure in Nebraska with which I am familiar.

In addition to boasting numerous well-furnished rooms for lodging, a swimming pool, an excellent restaurant, and a gift shop, the Arbor Day Lodge also offers its own wines. The wines at the Arbor Day Lodge are made by Ron Heskett, who also makes the wines for his winery in nearby Brownville, Whiskey Run Creek. A talented winemaker committed to the hybrid varieties that have been proven to thrive in the erratic, often hostile terroirs of the Great Plains, the medium-bodied reds and semi-sweet whites are served nightly at a complimentary reception for guests at the lodge. Visitors can purchase a tasting for $5, and all are welcome to take a glass of wine and sit out on the deck overlooking the valley, or else in front of the fireplace.

Perhaps the greatest feature of the Arbor Day Lodge is the massive outdoor patio on the back of the lodge, overlooking the valley below. From there, one can see J. Sterling Morton’s original residence, a palatial mansion with 52 rooms that looks strikingly like the White House, as well as the scenic, tree-filled valley below. In all, the Arbor Day Lodge in Nebraska City offers an ambiance uncommon in Nebraska, and a relaxing setting in which to enjoy a glass of wine while keeping in mind all that trees can offer to our lives. It is a visit not to be missed.

Address & Contact Information: 2611 Arbor Avenue Nebraska City, Nebraska 68410. Telephone: 800-546-5433, email:, website: Tasting Hours: Fri-Sat 5:00-7:00.

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