Minneopa State Park's expansive prairie could become home to a bison herd if approved by the Department of Natural Resources following a public comment period.
"If we get bison, it would increase our prairie management efforts (at Minneopa)," said Molly Tranel Nelson, regional resource specialist for parks and trails. "And we want to increase opportunities for visitors. It would allow visitors to have that experience and interpretation, to see a little of what the area looked like prior to settlement." Most importantly, the effort would help expand and protect genetically pure bison.
The bison would come from Blue Mounds State Park in southwestern Minnesota, which has a unique herd that is among the most genetically pure in the nation. If the bison come to Minneopa, it would be a homecoming of sorts. Sibley Park in Mankato once had a zoo that was home to bison. When the zoo was destroyed in the 1965 flood, those bison were moved to Blue Mounds, meaning their genes are among those at Blue Mounds today.
Under the plan, the 350 acres of prairie would be fenced. The size of herd that could be supported won't be determined until grass clippings and other surveying can be done to see how many bison could be sustained from the grasslands. Blue Mounds is 533 acres and can sustain about 75 adult bison. Assuming the grass conditions are similar, that would mean Minneopa could support about 50 adults.
There would likely be a road into the fenced area to allow visitors to view the bison, but Nelson said those and other details are still being refined.
By state law, the DNR must amend the park's plan to allow for such a change. By early or mid April, the DNR hopes to present the plan to the public for a 30-day review. "Then we'll have an open house to get people's input. I think there will be a lot of excitement about it," Nelson said.