DNR urges Minneopa State Park visitors to keep bison calves’ safety in mind

Calves mark successful introduction of Theodore Roosevelt National Park herd genetics

With new bison calves expected at Minneopa State Park in the coming weeks and months, managers with the Department of Natural Resources Parks and Trails division are reminding visitors to keep calves’ safety in mind by remaining in their vehicles along the park’s popular bison range road. 

“The bison cows are incredibly protective of their calves, and it’s tempting for park visitors to get out of their vehicles to take photos,” said Parks and Trails area supervisor Craig Beckman. “However, it’s important for people to remember to stay in their vehicles for the safety of these calves, their mothers and other park visitors.”

The new additions are offspring of the bison bull that was introduced in December 2016.

That’s significant, Beckman said, because the bison bull comes from Theodore Roosevelt National Park and possesses a genetic line that’s not well represented in the Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd. That genetic line will contribute to the herd’s overall genetic health and diversity.

While Minneopa State Park is seeing its first successful additions to the herd, the bison herds at Blue Mounds State Park and the Minnesota Zoo are also seeing new calves this year. For visitors viewing the bison at state parks, patience can be rewarded.

“Newborns need time for maternal bonding, and may be hard to see from the road for a while, but as they grow and mature, they become more visible,” Beckman said. “We tell visitors that they will be more likely to see the bison if they are patient and take it slow as they drive through the range.”

Bison viewing tips:

  • The bison drive begins near the campground off state Highway 68. A vehicle permit ($7/one-day or $35/year-round) is required to enter the park.
  • Bison may be difficult to spot at times. Drive slowly and keep a watchful eye through the range.
  • Remain inside vehicle while driving through the bison range.
  • Bison should be given clearance of at least 75 feet from people and vehicles at all times.
  • Dogs can make bison nervous, so pets must be kept on a leash while in the park and hiking around the bison range.
  • Bison get nervous around loud noises or lots of activity, so keep voices down and movements to a minimum to help keep the bison within easy viewing.
  • Hiking is not allowed inside the range, but there are hiking trails all the way around the outside of the range that can provide some fantastic views of the bison.

The bison are part of the Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd, managed through a formal agreement between the DNR and Minnesota Zoo. The partners are working together to preserve American plains bison and plan to grow the herd at several locations, including Blue Mounds and Minneopa state parks and the Minnesota Zoo.

The goal is a 500-animal herd at multiple locations. Genetic testing of the herd from 2011 to 2014 found them largely free of any genetic material that would have come from cross-breeding with cattle. Less than 1 percent of all American plains bison tested so far have been found free of cattle genes.

Visitors at Minneopa can check the park website for updates on the bison herd and its new calves at mndnr.gov/Minneopa. The site also provides more information about the park, including a virtual tour.

Minneopa State Park is located off U.S. Highway 169 and state Highway 68, 5 miles west of Mankato. The bison range road is open Thursday through Tuesday each week from 9am to 3:30pm.

For more information about the Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd on the Minnesota Zoo website or visit mndnr.gov/bison.