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- Beyond the Grave
Bison at Kankakee Sands
Herd of Bison Roam the Prairie of Northwest Indiana
Please note: The bison viewing area at Kankakee Sands is now open. If you would like to confirm before you go, call 219-285-2184 and listen to the message.
In October 2016, the Nature Conservancy introduced a herd of 23 bison to its Kankakee Sands prairie restoration project. Today there are more than 90 bison roaming this one square mile prairie.
The Nature Conservancy has an extensive bison conservation program, with herds now found on 13 preserves throughout the country. Kankakee Sands is the easternmost Conservancy preserve where the animals roam.
Visiting the Bison
Of course, everyone wants to know: Can we actually see the bison? The viewing experience, too, has been part of the planning. Visitors are able to see the bison easily and safely.
A viewing area has been established just off U.S. Highway 41, which runs through Kankakee Sands. Its slight elevation provides a natural “platform” where wildlife viewers should be able to see the bison grazing on the prairie.
There is not really a “best” time to visit the bison as they move around the 700+ acre pasture during the day. Sometimes the bison are more visible, other times they are less visible. Kankakee Sands suggests planning to stay for a few hours during your visit. Start at the viewing area and you might get a good sighting. If not, drive around the pasture. If you still aren’t able to see the bison, maybe go for a walk along a trail for an hour or two, and then return to the Viewing Area to try again.
If needed, a port-o-potty is located in the parking lot of the bison viewing area.
Blogs on the Bison
About the Bison Conservation Program
Historically, bison roamed the Indiana prairie, although likely in small herds in contrast to the huge herds on the Great Plains. Explorers and travelers reported seeing bison in the state in the 1600s and 1700s. In 1824, a traveler encountered a lone bison near the preserve’s location, and shot it. The animals were extirpated from the state by 1830.
Native habitat hasn't fared much better in the state: More than 99 percent of Indiana’s prairies have been lost to agriculture, development and lack of prescribed fire.
Since 1996, the Conservancy and partners have been working to restore a significant slice of prairie at Kankakee Sands. Nearly 6,500 acres have been planted with 600 native plants. Like its own “field of dreams,” once those plants were in the soil, the native wildlife followed.
But planting prairie plants is just one part of restoration. The prairie evolved with grazers and fire. Conservancy stewards manage some of the preserve with patch-burn grazing, where cows follow areas burned with prescribed fire, mimicking natural prairie processes.
Now bison have been added to the management plan.
The bison herd roams over 1,000 acres at Kankakee Sands. “From their horns to their hooves, bison are excellent prairie managers,” said Tony Capizzo, land steward at Kankakee Sands. “It is a keystone species in the prairie landscape. From the plants that it grazes on to the wallows it creates when it’s rolling on the ground, the bison’s behaviors should increase the plant and animal diversity at Kankakee Sands.”
More on Kankakee Sands and the Bison
Want to learn more about Kankakee Sands?
The Nature Conservancy's Kankakee Sands is 10,000 acres of prairie and savanna habitat in Northwest Indiana and Northeast Illinois, open every day of the year for public enjoyment. The Nature Conservancy in an international, non-profit organization. For more information about Kankakee Sands, visit www.nature.org/KankakeeSands or call the office at 219-285-2184.