In 2008, the Belwin Conservancy introduced bison to our prairies for the first time. After many years of diligent prairie restoration efforts, bison were the next logical step. Their presence on a prairie adds diversity and richness to the ecosystem that can't be replicated.
The bison also instantly became a beloved part of the community. The public observation platform located on Division Street is climbed thousands of times ever year. It also seems that everyone who drives by keeps careful track of the herd throughout the summer.
In just a few short years, the Bison have become such a part of the Belwin Conservancy that we couldn't imagine the place without them.
For the Belwin Conservancy, bison are an integral part of our prairie restoration work. They are as much a part of the prairie as are the grasses and wildflowers. They work the landscape with their hooves, forage out unwanted plants and spread seeds cannot be replicated. The Belwin Conservancy had long sought to restore bison to our land prior to doing so for the first time in 2008. Since their reintroduction, we have seen marked differences in the prairie's makeup.
One of the other motivations behind bringing bison to the Belwin Conservancy is education. Although they have largely disappeared from this area, bison were once an integral part of this landscape. As might be expected, bison are extremely well-suited to this environment and with very little assistance, they thrive given only native prairie.
We firmly believe that bison raised on native prairie is one of the most sustainable and beneficial varieties of agriculture. The bison need almost nothing from us to thrive and at the same time, they do good for the prairie. This helps many other native wildflowers and birds that depend on the prairie to thrive.
Bison meat raised in this manner is also some of the healthiest meat available anywhere.
Visiting the bison a the Belwin Conservancy is easy and fun. With help from Kowalski's Markets, the James Ford Bell Foundation, the Eagle and the Hawk Foundation and our members, we constructed a 20-foot tall observation platform in 2009 from which you can get a panoramic view of the prairie and the bison.
You are encouraged to stop by as often as you like to check in and see how the bison and the prairie change each other over the course of the sumer. The observation facility is open from dawn to dusk every day during the summer while the bison are present (generally from June through October).
The tower is reached by a fenced corridor to a six-foot tall deck, located in the parking area on Division Street. This lower and larger deck provides a view that is accessible to those who do not want to climb the tower or are not able to. It is reached by a wheelchair accessible ramp.
In 2010 we introduced our new Bison Buggy, a vehicle custom built by the Belwin Conservancy to tour the bison and the larger Belwin Conservancy preserve. The Buggy seats 8 adults and provides a comfortable and fun way to tour the Belwin Conservancy and visit the bison.
During the months the bison graze at Belwin, members are invited to enjoy a 20-minute ride on Open Third Saturdays. Rides are available from 1 pm – 3 pm and go out on the hour and the half hour.
Members who make a $500 donation may arrange for a private bison buggy tour with 7 of their friends, colleagues, family members. We encourage those choosing this option to bring a picnic – Belwin will supply water. These private buggy tours must be arranged in advance. Some evening and weekend hours are available.
We are proud to be a partner with NorthStar Bison in this endeavor. NorthStar is a family-owned ranch based in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. They raise all of their animals exclusively on native prairie grass and market their product at local retailers and online. NorthStar owns and manages the herd at the Belwin Conservancy and we in turn get the benefit of having bison on our prairie.
NorthStar Bison is committed to raising all of their animals entirely on grass, utilizing native prairie as much as possible. Bison meat raised in this manner is among the healthiest meat available. It is lower in fat and higher in omega-3 fatty acids than beef, bison raised on grain (as 95% is) or even chicken.
If you are interested in bison and the prairie, we highly recommend that you read Buffalo for the Broken Heart by Dan O'Brien. Dan is a South Dakota rancher, biologist and spoke at our 2008 release. He is one of the nation’s foremost experts on bison reintroduction and Buffalo for the Broken Heart comes highly recommended for anyone looking more information about bison and their impact on the land.
Dan also wrote a lovely essay about his time at the Belwin Conservancy during our first bison release. This piece is published as part of the beautiful coffee table book Great Plains: America's Lingering Wild.