DAKOTA COUNTY, Minn. — The bison are back in Dakota County.
A herd of seven towering bison arrived at the Spring Lake Park Reserve in early October, and on Friday, county and local officials, bison experts and Indigenous leaders gathered at the park prairie to celebrate.
The Bison Prairie, located at Fahey Trailhead on the reserve near Hastings and Rosemount, is the new 150-acre home for the animals. The bison will roam within "large, fenced paddocks to ensure the wellbeing of the animals as well as the safety of park visitors," according to a press release. The county expects the herd could grow to about 15 animals.
The reintroduction of the bison is part of the "Spring Lake Park Master Plan" to preserve and boost the prairie ecosystem, as these animals graze on grass which allows wildflowers to thrive. Officials say they will also contribute to new plant growth and diversity.
“The return of bison to the prairieland of Dakota County is a terrific natural resources success story,” said Dakota County Commissioner Mike Slavik in a statement. “The bison will help improve the prairie ecosystem, and the sight of these animals roaming the land will be stunning for visitors to Spring Lake Park Reserve.”
"It kind of brings me back to where I came from," said Michael Childs Jr., who is part of the tribal council for the Prairie Island Indian Community. "We occupied this land, so we have connections to it. The bison were food, clothing and shelter of our people."
Dakota County, along with the Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd Partnership, worked together to bring the initial herd to the reserve. They are looking to have a herd of around 500 total bison around the state "that have no detectable cattle genes," according to the Spring Lake Park Reserve website.
This fall, Dakota County reintroduced the herd to the area after it hasn't seen an American plains bison in almost two centuries.
The bison will be kept in a remote part of the reserve, less visible to park visitors, during the fall and winter so they can get comfortable in their new home. There will be a public welcome event for them in the spring of 2023.
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