On a chilly March morning, John Hardwick pulls into the bison viewing area at Kankakee Sands.  With his thermos of hot coffee handy, he’s ready to begin his day.

John volunteers as a Bison Ranger at Kankakee Sands. He’s been doing this for four years, and in those four years he has inspired hundreds of visitors with information about Kankakee Sands and our bison herd. 

Although he can tell you loads of facts and figures about our bison, John has found that nothing quite captures a person’s attention like a good story.  So, John tells a lot of stories, and when he talks, people lean in and listen hard. 

John admits to stumbling into conservation back in 1997 when he was the General Manager of a municipal water and sewer utility in Valparaiso, Indiana. He had been asked to put together a wellhead protection plan to protect the city’s drinking water wells from contamination. His plan was so successful that it won a state award for groundwater protection. Through this project, John became intrigued with the power of nature to protect, preserve and enrich our lives.  

Therefore, in his role as a Bison Ranger, John talks not only about what has been done at Kankakee Sands to protect the native plants and animals of the area; but how we all need to help protect and preserve nature for the benefit of nature and for the benefit of ourselves, too. 

John has chatted with visitors who have come in small groups, in large groups, alone, with their families, on bus tours, on motorcycles, on bicycles and just to swing by to use the port-o-potty. 

One of John’s favorite memories is from a picturesque blue-sky day last year. John remembers wearing a cowboy hat, having a full beard, and using a stately wooden cane with a bison carved on the top.  A little sports car pulled into the bison viewing area and stopped within several feet of John. The two women in the car stared at John for a good long while. Then with big smiles on their faces, they jumped out of the car and excitedly asked to take a picture with “The Buffalo Man.” John thinks that is one of the best compliments ever! 

So, this March, swing on by Kankakee Sands to meet the Buffalo Man, to share stories, and to make new memories. Then be sure to tell the tales of your Kankakee Sands adventures to your own friends, family and colleagues. You just never know who you might inspire! 

If you think you might be interested in becoming a Bison Ranger yourself, well great! Just let us know by contacting me at anyberg@tnc.org. We’d love to work together with you to inspire more people with the power and beauty of nature. Thanks!

(Editor’s note: Precisely speaking, at Kankakee Sands we have bison (Bison bison) grazing our prairies. Also known as American buffalo, the bison are not to be confused with the water buffalo from Asia or cape buffalo from Africa. John confirms that to be called “The Bison Man” would be a mighty awesome compliment too.)

The Nature Conservancy’s Kankakee Sands is an 8,400-acre prairie and savanna habitat in Northwest Indiana, open every day of the year for public enjoyment.  For more information about Kankakee Sands, visit www.nature.org/KankakeeSands or call the office at 219-285-2184.