A herd of bison that made their home at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie last fall has drawn more visitors to the area.
Richard Short, Midewin’s landscape architect, said the prairie had 400 to 500 visitors a day on nice weekends at the Iron Bridge Trailhead, the closest public access point to the bison area.
The bison arrived in October as part of a 20-year experiment to restore Midewin, south of Joliet, to its native landscape, which once teemed with bison and prairie plants. Park officials hope the bison eat the grasses and that other, struggling plants can grow, helping to attract a more diverse population of birds and insects.
Short said many people didn’t know about the prairie, but had heard about the bison.
“We are surprised that there are bison fans — people who have come out multiple times to see them,” Short said.
Even when visitors weren’t able to see the bison, Short said they gave positive feedback on their experience and planned to return.
The full impact of the bison on attendance won’t be known until 2018, when Midewin does an in-depth visitor survey that’s completed every five years. The last count showed 17,000 people came to Midewin in 2013.
Eventually, the prairie will have two overlooks. Staff members are close to completing one, an earthen platform, to give a better look at the bison, Short said.
Several of the cows are expected to give birth in the spring. A public event is being planned in May, after some of the calves have been born.