FRANKLIN GROVE — A walk through the water or a roll in the dirt. Those were just two of the Labor Day weekend choices made by some of the bison at the Nachusa Grasslands on Saturday.
As temperatures climbed near 80 degrees, several members of the Grasslands’ wild conservation herd made their way to the pond area just below the interpretative visitor center off of Lowden Road.
Some took dust baths at the edge of the pond exhibiting wallowing behavior to relieve skin irritations or to seek relief from biting insects. Others, some with calves in tow, walked quietly across the shallow pond to graze on the other side.
Either way, they put on a show for visitors.
“Look there they are,” said Carrie Crago of Gurnee as she pointed to the bison while holding her son Joshua. Her husband, Brian, watched from the family’s vehicle as Cameron, Joshua’s brother, sat on the vehicle’s roof zooming in on the herd with binoculars.
“We’ve been up at the interpretive center, but it’s great to actually see the bison today,” Carrie said.
The pond is just part of 1,500 acres on which the bison can roam.
Nachusa Grasslands, owned by The Nature Conservancy, encompasses 3,800 acres of natural prairie east of Dixon, along Lowden Road, near Franklin Grove.
The herd roams across a fenced-in 1,500 acres and can sometimes be seen from public roads or from the visitor center.
No hiking is permitted inside the fenced bison unit. Other areas of the preserve are open dawn to dusk for hiking. Dogs and other pets are not allowed in the preserve.
Officially named North America’s first national mammal in 2016, bison were reintroduced at the Grasslands in October 2014 to help restore the prairie and encourage habitat for other prairie species.
Today’s herd is comprised of around 150 animals, with calves arriving each spring. On Saturday, bison of all sizes and ages could be seen from the gravel parking lot along Lowden Road.
“Cool,” said one woman as she watched with binoculars while standing in the back of a pickup truck.
The open-air visitor center, located at 2075 Lowden Road, Franklin Grove, offers interpretive panels explaining Nachusa's prairie, woodland, and wetland ecosystems as well as the ongoing attempts to protect them.
The center also includes bison information, a walking trail, parking area, and bathrooms. It is open from dawn to dusk each day.
The Grasslands are also open from dawn to dusk with hiking allowed in non-fenced areas. Social distancing of six feet apart is required.
Volunteer opportunities are also available at the Grasslands.
Work days are held every Thursday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Advance registration via SignUpGenius (https://www.signupgenius.com/go/5080945afa82baafb6-nachusa8) is required.