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Features

New bison viewing scopes installed at Midewin in time for National Bison Day

Bob Soukup tries out the new bison viewing scopes along the Group 63 Trail at Midewin National Tallgrass on Nov. 2, National Bison Day.
Bob Soukup tries out the new bison viewing scopes along the Group 63 Trail at Midewin National Tallgrass on Nov. 2, National Bison Day.

Two new bison viewing scopes debuted on National Bison Day at the USDA Forest Service’s Midewin (pronounced: mih-DAY-win) National Tallgrass Prairie.

The new scopes, interpretive hikes, a bison story time and more were all part of a fun and educational day for over 200 visitors to Midewin on Nov. 2. 

The bison viewing scopes are sponsored by the Midewin Tallgrass Prairie Alliance, which received assistance from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation through its Public Amenities and Events grant program.

To learn more about the foundation, visit IllinoisCleanEnergy.org.

Jerry and Connie Heinrich of the Midewin Tallgrass Prairie Alliance led a 1.5-mile hike from the Iron Bridge Trailhead to where the viewing scopes are installed along the Group 63 Trail. Visitors took turns looking through the scopes.

A male bison was visible far in the distance that would not have been visible without the new telescopes, which magnify visibility by 20 times. The Heinrichs led the hike back to the Iron Bridge Trailhead. 

Other activities at Midewin on National Bison Day included interpretive nature hikes, a bison story time and a variety of bison education activities for children. The activities at Midewin on National Bison Day were part of the second annual Bison Crawl, which featured bison education programs at over 20 local, state and federal sites throughout Illinois.

The purpose of the Bison Crawl is to raise awareness of bison, America’s National Mammal, and their historical and ecological importance and relation to the prairies. 

At Midewin, Bison Day festivities started in the Welcome Center. President and chief executive officer of the Canal Corridor Association, Ana Koval, and Midewin Prairie supervisor Wade Spang cut a ribbon at 10 a.m. to celebrate the new Illinois and Michigan Canal Corridor map table.

The celebration honored the growing partnership of the Canal Corridor Association with the USDA Forest Service and the 35th anniversary of the Canal Corridor Heritage Area becoming America’s first-ever National Heritage Area.

Amanda Roge with the Wilmington Public Library District read a book about bison to children. Volunteers Kim Shehorn and Sharon White provided information to visitors in the Welcome Center.

Midewin staff led a ring toss game and other activities for children. The Midewin Alliance provided refreshments.

On the Midewin trails, Trevor Edmonson and Vera Leopold with The Wetlands Initiative led two interpretive hikes through the South Patrol Road Prairie and Prairie Glacial Plains project – over 1,000 acres that was marked in 2016 for seven years of accelerated restoration.

The tour included a group of wildlife biology/conservation students from Brookfield Zoo. A group of chorus frogs crossed their path and buzzards flew overhead. They also saw a soaring red-tailed hawk, a fox sparrow and some cedar waxwings eating berries.

Volunteer Tom Coyne and Midewin archaeologist, heritage program manager and tribal liaison Joe Wheeler led two interpretive hikes through the remains of farmsteads near the Iron Bridge Trailhead.

The following volunteers provided information at the Iron Bridge Trailhead: Tom Biskie, Janet Lyons, Ron Kapala, Dan Kohler, John Mittelbrun, Barry Schedin, Linda Schedin, Bob Soukup and Penny Vanderhyden.     

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