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A bison cow nuzzles her calf at Blue Mound State Park near Luverne, Minn. (Photo courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources)

Bison herd offers glimpse into past

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New and refreshed displays help tell the story of bison at Blue Mounds State Park and the relationship the animals have with the native people of the plains in the southwestern corner of Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said.

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"Bison are part of our heritage in the southwest part of the state," said Alex Watson, DNR regional naturalist. "Blue Mounds State Park plays a role in preserving that heritage through our bison herd and interpretive programs."

The interpretive center features new artifacts, updated displays and an 11-by-12-foot bison painting by muralist Greg Wimmer. Watson hopes to continue updating exhibits and adding information through the summer.

The center itself was once the home of author Frederick Manfred. Manfred designed the structure, which features a glass front overlooking the prairie landscape. An outcropping of Sioux quartzite forms the back wall of the house.

"It was important for Frederick to experience the landscape he wrote about," Watson said. "So it's fitting that visitors can learn about bison in our interpretive center and then go out and see our herd on the prairie."

An estimated 30 million to 60 million bison once roamed much of the country but were hunted to near extinction in the 1800s. Bison returned to the area in 1961, when three animals were brought to Blue Mounds State Park from Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge near Valentine, Neb. The park's herd is maintained at about 75 adult animals so they do not overgraze the 530-acre prairie.

"Though we will never see bison roam freely on the plains, we want to help visitors get a sense for what those times must have been like," Watson said.

There is no charge to view the bison or visit the interpretive center at Blue Mounds State Park, but a vehicle permit ($5 daily or $25 year-round) is required to enter the park.

For more information on Blue Mounds State Park, visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/blue_mounds/index.html or call the park at 507-283-1307. For more information on bison, see www.dnr.state.mn.us/mammals/bison.html.

Blue Mounds State Park is four miles north of Luverne on U.S. Highway 75. Turn east on County Road 20 and go one mile to the park entrance.

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