For thousands of backcountry tourists, the Mississippi River is one to cross, not see. But what if the bridge you cross was a beautiful pedestrian walkway full of American bison?
The aptly named Bison Bridge is a proposal to reconnect America’s most iconic animal with its historic habitat in the most creative way – repurposing an aging bridge scheduled for demolition as a wildlife crossing that provides safe passage for herds of bison.
When the local defender of the Mississippi River and president and founder of Living Lands & Waters, Chad Pregracke came up with the idea of a Bison Bridge National Park to span the river and connect the Quad Cities spanning the states of Iowa and Illinois, it immediately caught on. and quickly gained endorsements and publicity.
In addition to saving Illinois millions in demolition costs, city officials and regional planners hope that the redevelopment of the Fred Schwengel Memorial Bridge on I-80 will attract tourists to a part of the country where the population has not increased in 30 years. .
“It’s a fantastic idea, a great vision,” said Kevin Marchek, who worked for the Illinois Department of Transportation for 39 years. local news last month. “We have to keep pushing this until it becomes a reality.”
The Chicago Tribune described the project as “a dream” and “too charming and creative to reject immediately”, in an editorial, and several tribal nations also see it as a great way to highlight the area.
The bridge, which would be the longest wildlife crossing on Earth, would feature a closed strip of grassland running across it, with viewing stations where passing pedestrians can watch the bison. Artistic renderings place the bridge railings in glass, with elegant cafes next to them, to offer a comfortable and unobstructed view of the mighty Mississippi and the roaming animals.
For the Eastern Shoshone, the project offers a reconnection for both themselves and other Americans with the heritage of the Plains Indians.
Jason Baldes, a member of the tribe, works for the nonprofit National Wildlife Federation as a Tribal Bison Coordinator.
“The bison was known as my grandparents’ commissary for life,” said Baldes. The Guardian. “It was food, clothing, shelter, and it was also central to our cultural and spiritual belief systems.”
They were also essential to the plains as an ecosystem, acting as a “key species”, meaning that, like the key in an arch, they held all the bricks together.
Vast herds that once totaled between 30 and 60 million rushed across the landscape, trampling rampant growth, scattering seeds here and there, and allowing a highly diverse mix of plants to grow, creating soils rich in biodiversity. Their fur, once shed, is an important nesting material, and borrowing owls used to rely on their dung to make nests.
They are living history, not only for Native Americans, but also for American conservation history, which arguably began with the bison when reckless overhunting reduced their numbers to just 300.
“But not only is it important to Native American tribes, it is important to the American people to at least have the opportunity to learn about this history,” said Baldes. Certainly a true statement.
(LOOK the video featuring the Bison Bridge project below).
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