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Celebrate National Bison Month with Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

ILLINOIS – July is National Bison Month, and there are activities for all ages to learn about bison – and the prairie ecosystem that is essential to how they live. Celebrate and learn about America’s National Mammal, the bison, with the USDA Forest Service – Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

The bison at Midewin are a part of a 20-year conservation experiment: volunteers, partners and staff are monitoring to see if the grazing pattern of the herd, which creates more varied grass lengths, is helping to encourage the return of native Illinois grassland birds and other prairie species.

In 2016, bison were named America’s National Mammal, underscoring the historical, economical and ecological significance of bison. Learn more about why bison are important throughout National Bison Month at Midewin with these educational and fun activities:   

Sundays - Hikes on Sundays through Oct. 27, there will be a Ranger-guided hike to look for the bison at 11 a.m. Meet at the Iron Bridge Trailhead. You might not see the bison, but you will learn about Midewin’s unique past, present and future in a fun and interactive way.

“Midewin For Kids” programs

July 10:  Prairie Stories Chalk Art 10 a.m. – noon Draw a bison in chalk! Listen to fun tales about animals that live on the prairie and show off your artistic abilities! Share your own animal story and create Chalk Art on the sidewalks in the Welcome Center gardens. Recommended for ages 5 – 10.

July 10:  Prairie Roots 10 a.m. – noon How do prairie plants survive fire, drought and freezing temperatures?  They have special roots! Come and learn what makes their roots so special. Participate in an activity to showcase just how long prairie roots can grow – you will be surprised! Recommended for ages 5 – 10.

July 16:  Prairie Picassos 10 a.m. – noon Draw a bison! Turn the beauty of the tallgrass prairie into art. Recommended for ages 6 – 12.

July 17:  Croaking Around 10 a.m. – noon Toad or frog? Learn to identify who is who using live animals. Find out fun facts about these amazing amphibians! Recommended for ages 5 – 12.

July 18:  The Bison Project 10 a.m. – noon Learn about the majestic bison. See and touch a real bison pelt, skull, horn cap and more. Create history-based bison art to take home!  Recommended for ages 6 – 12.

July 23:  The Life of a Butterfly 12:30 − 2:30 p.m. Butterflies and bison: Come discover the life cycle of butterflies on the prairie. Learn about habitats, butterfly nectar plants and host plants. Recommended for families.

July 24:  Batty Evening 7:30 – 9:30 p.m. Bats and bison: Find out how bats are essential to the prairie ecosystem. Learn about the flying mammal that eats mosquitoes! Decorate a bat house to take home (one per family). Take a short hike looking for these tiny, wonderful creatures of the night. Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, close-toed shoes and socks. Recommended for families.

July 25:  Dragonflies aka Mosquito Hawks 12:30 – 2:30 p.m. Spy these mosquito hunters near a pond on the prairie! Learn about these flying aces. Recommended for ages 6 – 12.

July 30:  Bird’s the Word 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. Learn about the birds of Midewin and their different habitats. Participate in hands-on activities, use binoculars, and take a short birding hike. Recommended for ages 6 – 10.

July 31:  Pond Life 10 a.m. − 12 p.m. - Uncover an amazing underwater world on the prairie. Learn about the insects, amphibians, and mammals that are essential to the prairie ecosystem. Recommended for ages 6 – 12.

National Bison Month Tours:

July 20:  Midewin by Auto 10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Explore Midewin by car Caravan to view restored wetlands and prairie and observe wildlife. Find out why ecological restoration is so important and experience some of Midewin’s best examples of restored prairie. Learn how Midewin will change and what that will mean for wildlife and recreation. Visit one of the remaining ammunition bunkers for a glimpse into the past.

To register for any of the activites during National Bison Month at Midewin, call 815-423-6370.  

You can look for the Midewin bison from home: in 2016, the National Forest Foundation worked in a partnership agreement with the USDA Forest Service to install a bison cam. You can view the webcam on the Midewin website. The herd roams 1,000 acres and are not always in view of the webcam. The Midewin Public Services team tracks activity in the webcam and posts on Facebook and Twitter.

Celebrate with us at Midewin all year: activities are posted on Facebook, Twitter and the website. The 2019 Tours and Programs Guide is online.

One of the first bison calves born in spring 2019 finds its footing on wobbly knees at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Wilmington. Midewin staff and volunteers will provide a full month of bison and prairie activities throughout July – National Bison Month. USDA Forest Service photo by Rick Short.