Bison coming back to public prairie in Afton

Courtesy of the Belwin Conservancy

flocks flutter around
great brown ghosts in the tallgrass
silence sprawls above

Centuries ago, bison roamed the bluffs of the St. Croix River valley. The river represented nearly the eastern extent of their range, with the beasts living on both sides but not much farther into what is now Wisconsin.

They were an essential part of the prairie and savanna that spread across the landscape, just like occasional fire, rainfall below about 30 inches per year, and plenty of sun. The bison shaped the prairie as much as any of those forces.

“The way they work the landscape with their hooves, forage out unwanted plants and spread seeds cannot be replicated,” Belwin Conservancy’s website says.

Belwin has worked for decades to restore native prairie ecosystems in Afton, along the lower St. Croix. Anyone who enjoys the clean waters of the river can appreciate the bison. Prairie holds soil in place, soaks up rain, and keeps nutrients out of the water that would otherwise feed algae.

Bringing bison back was a natural evolution of its efforts. Bison were first brought back seven years ago and have already helped native wildflowers and birds thrive. They have also become “a beloved part of the community.”

This Saturday, the bison will return for another summer, at a popular event open to the public. Activities begin at 11 a.m. and the bison will be released onto the prairie at noon sharp. It will occur at the Belwin Conservancy’s bison observation area located on Division Street in Afton, Minnesota, near Stagecoach Trail and I-94. 

St. Croix 360 is proudly playing a minor role this summer at the bison prairie. Visitors to the Lucy Winton Bell Athletic Fields, where thousands of families come for soccer and  games and tournaments each year, will be offered an activity guide to help explore the conservancy’s lands (and perhaps give bored siblings a break between games).

One of the three activities is a “Prairie Haiku,” to be completed at the bison prairie. These three-line poems of ancient Japanese origin are great for capturing a natural image or moment. Poets are invited to send their poems toinfo@stcroix360.com for possible publication!

The activity guide will be available at the release this Saturday, and it would be great to read what people see and what inspires them.

All parking will be at the athletic fields, located at 15601 Hudson Road in West Lakeland, Minnesota. Hudson Road is the south frontage road for Interstate 94 and the athletic fields are located between Stagecoach Trail and Saint Croix Trail.

This post was written by Greg Seitz and originally published on St. Croix 360. Follow St. Croix 360 on Twitter: @stcroix360.

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