WILMINGTON – Tom Lewis of Coal City spent his Saturday doing what he loves to do – taking photographs.
He took advantage of the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie’s “Midewin Bison Expedition,” a public event where the bison herd was moved out of its typical pasture that encompasses 1,200 acres of prairie to the event pasture, a much-smaller 40 acres.
“Nature is what I love shooting,” Lewis said.
The bison is where he will remember taking his last film photograph ever. He said he used the last of his film at the event, and now will shoot just digital.
Cindy Parks of Joliet also showed up to take photographs, but the herd, which huddled along the south fence line, was out of range of most camera lenses. That is, until Lewis let her attach a longer lens to her camera, bringing the herd up close in the viewfinder.
“I came out to take pictures and see the bison up close,” Parks said. “I’ve never seen them before.”
The bison herd – four bulls and 23 cows – were reintroduced to the prairie’s pastures in October. The bulls came from a USDA/APHIS facility near Fort Collins, Colorado, and the cows came from a ranch near Mitchell, South Dakota.
All the female bison already were pregnant when they arrived, and babies now are part of the herd. Pregnancy for a female bison lasts about 9½ months.
The expedition was the first official showing of the bison herd since they moved in last fall.
Visitors boarded buses in either Wilmington or Elwood to be transported to the trail head, where a short walk led them to the fence line where the buffalo and their babies were grazing.
Staff and volunteers were on hand and warned visitors before they exited the bus that the buffalo were very sensitive to stress, and asked guests refrain from adding stress to the large animals.
Visitors of all ages were greeted by Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl at a tent that contained educational information on the bison and other wildlife in the park.
Aidan Eaheart, 10, and Tanner Leonard, 10, both of Frankfort, said they learned a lot about bison while they visited and were excited to see them.
“I think the bison are awesome,” Leonard said. “It’s cool to see them in person and the calves are so small, they were hard to see.”
Eaheart said he didn’t know they liked to hide in the tall grasses until he visited.
Leonard was most impressed with the reason the bison were brought to Midewin – an attempt to help the land.
According to literature handed out at the event, the herd is part of an experiment at Midewin to see how bison grazing improves the diversity of native vegetation during prairie restoration.
Eaheart also thought it was cool that the males are called bulls, and the calves are a much lighter brown than their mothers.
The bison expedition was held in conjunction with the annual Route 66 “Red Carpet Corridor” event in Elwood and Wilmington.
If you missed the bison Saturday, the bison range can be accessed via the Iron Bridge Trailhead on Route 53 at the intersection of South Chicago and Hoff roads. For a longer trek, the range can also be accessed via the Wauponsee Glacial Trail.
Visit www.fs.usda.gov/midewin to learn more about the bison project at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie