Bison at Midewin: Hiking interest

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I fully expected there to be a spike in interest in Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie with the introduction of bison in October.

And it has been immediate and significant.

I bet the impact will grow, especially when some of those calves are born later this year at the site near Wilmington.

Here is the word on visitor impact and an update on how the bison are doing from the Forest Service:

BISON AT MIDEWIN NATIONAL TALLGRASS PRAIRIE – A DAY LONG AWAITED WILMINGTON, Illinois (JANUARY 2016) – A day long awaited, since that first opportunity for the public to witness bison at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie (Midewin), the herd is doing well and adjusting to their new home. Several of the bison appear to enjoy wallowing in select pasture areas. This shows how the bison can create areas where prairie grass seeds can become established and help with the restoration of the prairie. We have also noticed that some of the bison cows are beginning to expand in their rib cage indicating that there will be new calves arriving in the spring. Recreation visitors to the prairie have increased significantly since the release of the herd in late October. On the early weekends following the release, Midewin recorded 400 to 500 visitors on pleasant weather days at the Iron Bridge Trailhead, the public access point closest to the bison area. This number is several times higher than years before the bison arrived. The Welcome Center also noticed increased visitors throughout the week with 3 to 4 times the number of visitors over past years. Midewin does an in depth visitor survey every five years. The last time the count was completed in 2013, it was estimated that approximately 17,000 people visited Midewin. The next survey will be done in 2018 and we will see how the addition of the bison and our prairie restoration projects at Midewin are affecting recreation visitor numbers. The attitude of the public toward the bison has been very positive. We were pleasantly surprised to see the presence of ‘Bison Fans’ – individuals who returned for multiple, often consecutive, visits this past fall says Wendy Tresouthick, Environmental Education/Interpretation Specialist at Midewin. Visitors had smiles on their faces and positive words to share even if they were unlucky in their quest to spot the herd on a given day. Regardless, people enjoyed their visit and looked forward to coming back for the potential opportunity to see the bison again. That was great to see! Midewin staff and volunteers have heard many times how pleased people are to have the bison at Midewin. The most common question visitors have is, Where can we go to see the bison? Here are some tips for viewing the bison. Begin your journey at the parking lot of the Iron Bridge Trailhead the main access point to the bison area. Obtain the maps showing the trails to the bison area and all the trails at Midewin. Bison are most easily viewed from the Group 63 Trail which borders the north end of the pasture. Bring binoculars or a spotting scope. The bison are often grazing a long distance from the trail and vantage points areas. Be persistent. If the bison are not visible or are a long ways away, come back again. Bison grazing patterns are unpredictable but you will eventually see them with some patience and diligence. Hiking is not the only way to travel on the prairie. Bring your bicycle or even your horse! We encourage you to take advantage of the multi-use trail system identified on the Trail Map for Midewin. A public event is being planned in May of 2016, after some of the bison calves have been born said Wade Spang, Prairie Supervisor. Stay tuned for the exact date and programs to be offered at the event. The U.S. Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a mission of sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The Forest Service’s Eastern Region includes 20 states in the Midwest and East, stretching from Maine, to Maryland, to Missouri, to Minnesota. There are 17 national forests and one national tallgrass prairie in the Eastern Region. For more information, visit The U.S. Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live. For more information, visit

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