Although they once roamed the Midwest in numbers estimated in the millions, bison are now a rare find on the prairie. As part of its ecosystem restoration, the Belwin Conservancy in Afton has brought bison back to the prairie.
A herd of 40 bison from NorthStar Bison in Rice Lake, Wis., will be released onto Belwin’s prairie at a free public event on Saturday, May 20. This is the ninth year that a herd will spend their summer grazing 120 acres of prairie at Belwin.
Each year since 2008, a crowd has gathered to welcome the bison to their summer home. Last year, more than 1,000 people turned out to witness the bison release and celebrate the United States’ first national mammal.
“Our relationship with Belwin is really the heartbeat of NorthStar and what bison, as a species, is all about: restoration and regeneration. Restoring healthy ecosystems, healthy people and, ultimately, a healthy, thriving species. When you have that, everyone wins,” said Sean Graese of NorthStar Bison in a press release.
Since the bison first came to Belwin, the prairie grasses the bison feed on have seen an improvement.
“Since I became the land and facilities manager at Belwin, I’ve seen that the bison actually do a better job managing the prairie than anything we humans can do,” said Justin Sykora in a press release. “The response of the flowers and grasses has been better than we could have hoped. The diversity of the prairie has greatly improved since the bison have been coming. They are modifying our management strategy.”
The bison release event starts at 11 a.m. May 20 with the release taking place at noon. The event is free and open to the public, and will include family-friendly activities, educational displays and food for sale from Afton Alps Food Truck and Afton House Inn. NorthStar Bison will have bison burger and brat samples and frozen bison meat for sale.
“In past years we have had bison hides and bones and other kid-friendly displays about bison,” said Kate Seitz with Belwin Conservancy. “There will be naturalists to answer questions.”
Parking is available at the Lucy Winton Bell Athletic Fields located at 15601 Hudson Road, West Lakeland with shuttle service taking visitors to the event. Limited parking nearer the release site on Division Street is available for those who require special access. Those unable to attend the bison release event may visit the bison throughout the summer via the bison observation platform, open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. More information can be found at belwin.org.
Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]