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Natural Awakenings Chicago

Inaugural Bison Crawl to Celebrate National Bison Day

Oct 28, 2018 07:47PM

Photo by Rick Short_USDA FS Midewin NTP

Millions of bison, our country’s official national mammal, once thundered across North America. These massive animals, characterized by long, shaggy brown coats, have poor eyesight, but acute hearing and an excellent sense of smell. Celebrate the key role they played in the settlement of our young nation on National Bison Day, November 3, by joining in the first-ever Bison Crawl. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and Forest Preserve District of Will County, Two Hounds Antiques, Manhattan-Elwood Public Library and Wilmington Public Library are collaborating on a host of open-to-the-public activities at stops along the crawl.

        At the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie stop, visit with volunteers and staff along the Iron Bridge Trail and look for the Midewin bison herd that roams over 1,000 acres. The Iron Bridge Trailhead at Midewin is located on the east side of Highway 53, between Elwood and Wilmington, about two miles north of the Gemini Giant.

        “There is something very special about National Bison Day here at the USDA Forest Service’s Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie; it is one of our favorite days of the year,” says Veronica Hinke, Midewin public affairs officer and public services team leader. “This year, we are looking forward to co-hosting bison interpretive activities with neighboring organizations who share our passion in spreading the message about the ecological, historical and economic importance of bison. You can study up at the bison learning stations in Manhattan and in Wilmington—and then you can take a hike near where a herd of conservation bison actually lives and contributes to the restoration of this incredible ecosystem.”

        The herd was established in 2015 as a 20-year conservation experiment. Volunteers and staff are monitoring the herd to see if its grazing pattern, which creates varied grass lengths, is encouraging the return of native Illinois prairie plants, insects, birds and other species.

        The Midewin Welcome Center will be open to visit with staff and volunteers, learn about bison and watch a film that shows the Midewin bison herd arriving in 2015. Visitors can get up close and touch a real bison pelt. “Bison Bags” are available to be checked out year-round. 

        At the Forest Preserve District of Will County stop on the Bison Crawl, Sugar Creek Administration Center, in Joliet, get a close-up look at a real bison pelt, horns, jaw and shoulder bone. A representative from Ruhter Bison Farm, Prairie Rim Ranch, will talk about the farm’s history, practices and products related to bison. Try the bison chip throwing contest—the grand prize is a bison skull donated by Ruhter Bison Farm, in Newman. Bison chip throws will follow each interpretive prairie ecology hike. Everyone will have a chance to throw a chip at the end of each hike at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.

        In Wilmington, Two Hounds Antiques will present natural shopping and learning opportunities. John Gardener will be on hand to talk about the importance of bees and beekeeping to support native species. Vendors will offer hot and cold food selections, bison-related items and handmade leather goods.

        Visitors can get a close look at bison teeth, bones and small sections of pelts at the Manhattan-Elwood Public Library and the Wilmington Public Library. Both will also host bison learning stations for the two weeks before Bison Day.

Location: Midewin Welcome Center, 30239 S. State Rte. 53, Wilmington, IL.; Sugar Creek Administration Center, 17540 W. Laraway Rd., Joliet; Two Hounds Antiques, 315 N. Water St., Wilmington; Manhattan-Elwood Public Library, 240 Whitson St., Manhattan; Wilmington Public Library, 201 S. Kankakee St., Wilmington. View the Bison Cam anytime at