Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service
If you've been out to Midewin Tallgrass Prairie in Wilmington and haven't been able to spot the bison herd, you might want to plan on heading out there when volunteer rangers will lead guided hikes in search of the national mammal.
The tours kick off Sunday, May 6 and run through Sunday, October 28. During that stretch, the hikes will depart from the Ranger Trailer at the Iron Bridge Trailhead every Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. The hikes are expected to last approximately an hour and visitors can expect to see a historic farmstead and prairie restoration along the way and, hopefully, some bison.
The hikes are free, registration is not required, and no two tours may be alike. Because the grazing patterns are unpredictable, guides use their own observations and information from other visitors to plan which direction each tour will head and how long the hike will be. Midewin officials say those participating in the tour should expect to hike anywhere from a half-mile to 3 miles.
The bison have been a big draw at Midewin since the herd’s arrival in October 2015, but can be elusive for visitors to find considering they roam a 1,200 acre area. In 2016, a Bison Cam was installed to help provide a real-time view.
While the Iron Bridge Trailhead is closest to the herd's grazing area, visitors also can access Midewin via the Forest Preserve District's Wauponsee Glacial Trail. The Midewin-Wauponsee Trailhead, which opened in 2015 and was created through a partnership between the Forest Preserve District of Will County and the U.S. Forest Service, is located at the intersection of Hoff Road and the Forest Preserve District's Wauponsee Glacial Trail.
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This new trail access provides a launching point for trips north or south on the Wauponsee Glacial Trail and west into Midewin. That trail intersects with Midewin's Bailey Bridge Trail, just south of the trailhead. The bison herd's grazing area is an 8-mile trek from the Midewin-Wauponsee Trailhead via a recommended route of multiuse trails open to bicyclists, equestrians and pedestrians.
When heading out to view the bison, Midewin offers up these suggestions for visitors:
- Stop by the Midewin Welcome Center at 30239 S. Route 53, Wilmington, to find maps and other information on the bison herd and the site in general.
- Bring binoculars or a spotting scope. Midewin’s 27 bison are often grazing a long distance from the trail.
- Be persistent. If you can’t see bison on your first trip, come back again. Bison grazing patterns are unpredictable.
- Stay on multiuse trails if you are on a bike or horse. If the trail is mowed grass, then it is designated for foot traffic only. All other trails/roads are multiuse routes. Midewin’s trails are open year-round from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m.
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