“I can't even describe how incorporating bison have enhanced the landscape here. The quality and maturation of our prairie has been improved by 4x. The balance and abundance of insects, wildlife, wildflowers and grasses here is second to none in the country. Simultaneously, our management energy and costs have plummeted. All thanks to the bison.”
– Justin Sykora, Land Manager, Belwin Conservancy
Each year in May, a herd of NorthStar bison travel to Afton, Minnesota to take up summer residence on the tallgrass prairie at Belwin Conservancy.
For Belwin, bison are an integral part of prairie restoration work. They are as much a part of the prairie as are the grasses and wildflowers, and their ability to forage out unwanted plants, spread beneficial fungi, and carry seeds across the prairie cannot be replicated.
Since striking up a partnership with NorthStar Bison in 2008, Belwin’s previously degraded prairies have become vibrant ecosystems, abuzz with activity: Wildflowers are prolific. Deer frequent the pasture to feast on abundant grasses and legumes. Owls, foxes, and coyotes hunt small rodents stirred up by the herd. Songbirds swoop and soar above the prairie flowers, picking off insects buzzing by.
It’s all part of the cycle of life on the prairie, and it all starts with the bison.
Belwin Conservancy protects and stewards 1,400 acres of land in the St. Croix Valley. Years of restoration efforts at Belwin have resulted in the return of several threatened ecosytems and the species that call them home, including prairie, oak savanna, Blanding’s turtles and rusty patched bumblebees.
With over seven miles of public trails accessible 365 days a year, as well as guided hikes, talks, arts experiences and events, Belwin offers visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in these landscapes and make meaningful connections with nature, all within minutes of the Twin Cities.
Bison enthusiasts are invited to view the herd via two viewing platforms on the Bison Prairie. One is ADA accessible. Belwin members can take buggy rides on the prairie every third Saturday in the summer, and hundreds of guests witness the bison being released at the annual Bison Festival every May.