After five years roaming the prairie, the bison at Nachusa Grasslands seem to like their home.
What began as 30 bison relocated to the 3,800-acre natural prairie preserve, owned by The Nature Conservancy, near Franklin Grove has grown into a herd of 110, with more on the way. Calving season is just beginning at Nachusa.
The numbers are right where the staff wants them, and they couldn’t be more pleased with how the bison herd has come along, and has become a big attraction to draw in visitors.
“Oh, yeah, they really are the rock stars. People are excited about the bison and are always asking about them,” said Cody Considine, resource ecologist for Nachusa. “I grew up in Dixon, and when I see people I know, they don’t ask about my family or anyone they ask about the bison.”
The goal was for the herd to hit an optimum 110 animals, which happened last year. In fact, they had more bison than they would have liked last year so they had to find new homes for a few.
“Last fall we had our first bison sale because we reached our herd size that we want to maintain,” Considine said. “We sold 23 animals, and there will be more this fall since we have about 30 to 40 calves each year.”
The baby bison boom happens in April and May, and already three calves have been born. As soon as the calves start coming, so do the crowds.
“As soon as the weather gets nice, people will flock out here to get a glimpse,” he said.
When Elizabeth Bach was hired as an ecosystem restoration scientist last year, she made it a priority to update how the staff keeps track of the bison herd.
“She’s really ramping up the science and research part. It’s pretty unique,” Considine said. “In fact, we recently worked with a bison researcher who completed a study on Nachusa.”
The new visitor center, which opened last summer, also has been a big success.
It offers an outdoor classroom and plenty of displays to give visitors a good grasp of the ecology and work that takes place at the grasslands.
As soon as people arrive at the visitor center, though, the questions start coming about where they can see the star attraction.
“They are pretty excited about bison conservation,” Considine said. “The community has a special place in their hearts for the bison.”
The Nachusa Grasslands is at 2075 Lowden Road northwest of Franklin Grove.
Find it on Facebook to learn more.