ILLINOIS – Two new bison-viewing scopes debuted on National Bison Day at the USDA Forest Service’s Midewin (pronounced: mih-DAY-win) National Tallgrass Prairie. The new scopes, interpretive hikes, a bison story time and more were all part of a fun and educational day for over 200 visitors to Midewin on Saturday, November 2.
The bison viewing scopes are sponsored by the Midewin Tallgrass Prairie Alliance, which received assistance from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation through its Public Amenities and Events grant program. This partnership and project support the Forest Service’s strategic goal of delivering benefits to the public.
Jerry and Connie Heinrich of the Midewin Tallgrass Prairie Alliance led a 1.5-mile hike from the Iron Bridge Trailhead to where the viewing scopes are installed along the Group 63 Trail. Visitors took turns looking through the scopes. A male bison was visible far in the distance that would not have been visible without the new telescopes, which magnify visibility by 20 times. The Heinrichs led the hike back to the Iron Bridge Trailhead.
The Midewin bison are a small conservation herd introduced on the prairie in October 2015 as a 20-year experiment in restoring the landscape, the first Forest Service project of its kind. The grazing of the herd reintroduces disturbance that is important to reviving and sustaining a more diverse habitat of native grasses for wildlife on 1,200 acres of non-native prairie area.
Other activities at Midewin on National Bison Day included interpretive nature hikes, a bison story time and a variety of bison education activities for children. The activities were part of the second annual Bison Crawl, which featured bison education programs at over 20 local, state and federal sites throughout Illinois. The purpose of the Bison Crawl is to raise awareness of bison, America’s national mammal, and their historical and ecological importance and relation to the prairies.
On the trails, Trevor Edmonson and Vera Leopold, with The Wetlands Initiative, led two interpretive hikes through the South Patrol Road Prairie and Prairie Glacial Plains project – over 1,000 acres that were marked in 2016 for seven years of accelerated restoration. The tour included a group of wildlife biology/conservation students from Brookfield Zoo. Volunteer Tom Coyne and Midewin archaeologist, heritage program manager and tribal liaison Joe Wheeler led two interpretive hikes through the remains of farmsteads near the Iron Bridge Trailhead. The following volunteers provided information at the Iron Bridge Trailhead: Tom Biskie, Janet Lyons, Ron Kapala, Dan Kohler, John Mittelbrun, Barry Schedin, Linda Schedin, Bob Soukup and Penny Vanderhyden.