Nearly 30 head of native bison were reintroduced this week to the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie along Route 66 in Wilmington, Illinois — the first time buffalo have roamed in that area in nearly two centuries.
Bison were exterminated by the 1830s in northern Illinois, and the animals were hunted to near-extinction in the United States by the early 20th century.
This video shows the bison being released in the park for the first time Friday:
Midewin covers nearly 19,000 acres, and the U.S. Forest Service sees the bison reintroduction as way to restore the original prairie ecosystem in that area. The park officials acquired the bison from a genetically pure herd in South Dakota.
The park is planning a big event in the spring to mark the bison’s reintroduction. In the meantime, you’ll have a few days to possibly see the animals:
Starting October 24th, visitors are encouraged to begin their visit to Midewin at the Welcome Center located between Wilmington and Elwood along State Route 53. The Midewin Welcome Center is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday, and will be open Saturday and Sunday starting Oct. 24 through Nov. 1 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. After Nov. 1, the Welcome Center will not be open on weekends until spring.
Other than the occasional bison raised by hobbyist farmers or kept at western-themed businesses, the closest place where one can see a herd of buffalo is at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Pawhuska, Oklahoma — more than an hour’s drive north of Route 66.
So this addition to Midewin will no doubt be a draw to many Route 66 tourists.
UPDATE: The Chicago Tribune had a report about the bison, including how they will help restore the prairie there:
Bison primarily eat grass, and the resulting decline of the grasses will allow a variety of other plants to flourish — plants that are difficult to establish and will attract a more diverse population of birds and insects.
A video of the bison reintroduction by the Tribune may be viewed here.
The National Forest Foundation also is raising money for a webcam so Internet users can watch the bison at their watering station. One can donate money for the cause here.