This photo was taken at Wind Cave National Park in July of 2010. If bison are placed in Minneopa State Park, you'll be able to see similar scenes near Mankato.  LISA BRAINARD/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
This photo was taken at Wind Cave National Park in July of 2010. If bison are placed in Minneopa State Park, you'll be able to see similar scenes near Mankato. LISA BRAINARD/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
Badlands National Park, Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park in South Dakota are three of my favorite parks.

The trio sport superb scenery, but there's more. Something in each goes beyond the present and back to a young, yet-to-be-settled, wild land. Your senses will react fully to the noisy snorts, the wooly fur, the wild-eyed stare and the shaking ground of a herd of bison on the move. Yes - bison.

The three parks I noted all have bison - wonderful, untamed, magnificent bison. Now the Minnesota DNR (Department of Natural Resources) is looking to add bison to Minneopa State Park near Mankato. Comments will be taken and an open house held to receive more public input on the proposal.

The park's management plan - and the proposed amendment reintroducing bison to an area they used to inhabit on the prairie - are both available or can be reached from the Minneopa State Park website at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/input/mgmtplans/parks/minneopa.html

The management plan background gives an overview of the park. It's a lot larger than the small part I saw during a 2008 visit. Minneopa Falls is a highlight to be sure.

"The management plan amendment describes the reintroduction of bison and addresses the impacts and opportunities created by the reintroduction for resource management, interpretive services and recreational use and visitor services at the state park.

"Minneopa State Park was established in 1905. The state park contains southern Minnesota's largest waterfall and the remains of the historic Seppmann Mill. The park encompasses 2,691 acres, of which 1,653 are owned and managed by the DNR. The park's most popular attraction is Minneopa Falls, a double waterfall on Minneopa Creek. Park facilities include a campground, group camps, picnic areas, a visitor center, and trails for hiking and cross-country skiing.

"Minneopa State Park is located five miles west of Mankato, in Blue Earth County."

So there's your overview. Now, here's my first take on the proposed plan ("management plan amendment," as it's called). I must say, it didn't surprise me to see a lack of direct interaction with the bison. I just couldn't see the Minnesota DNR allowing the unrestricted hiking and/or camping among the bison that occurs in those three parks in South Dakota already mentioned.

Let me also note, there's nothing like encountering bison on your trail when hiking - and then detouring around in a huge circle... or finding yourself somehow between a lone bull and the herd. (The latter turned out OK, but I can surely see trying to avoid such a situation.)

I was hoping the Minnesota DNR might allow the public to drive on a road through the bison area, which does not occur at the only Minnesota State Park with bison today, Blue Mounds near Luverne.

Years ago I visited the Neal Smith (formerly called Walnut Creek) National Wildlife Refuge created in 1990 in central Iowa. The draw for me - long before my first trip to South Dakota - was centered on the roaming bison it protected. Better yet, a road took you right through their prairie. It was a thrill to drive that road the first time. I guess it instilled a desire for more experiences seeing bison and helped further my interest in the Plains, bison jumps and Native American usage of the whole bison in their lives, pioneer-era America, and more.

I'm pleased to report the plan for Minneopa does include a public road through the bison prairie. A current hiking trail will be rerouted around the fenced area. Interpretive signs will be placed and the park's historic Seppmann Mill will provide an overlook of the bison prairie.

The plan proposal online includes further information on acquiring the bison, increasing and then maintaining herd size, impacts on and benefits to resources, interpretive and educational opportunities, ties to other state attractions expected increase in visitation, and more.

Herd genetics are to be maintained according to U.S. Department of the Interior (think national park and wildlife refuge) standards. The Minnesota DNR eventually would like to have bison in three state parks and managed as one herd. So it looks like we can expect yet another park to welcome bison in the future.

I'll say it again. This is all very exciting to me. Please take a look at the plan online and then weigh in yourself on having bison at Minneopa State Park.

A public open house will be held at the Blue Earth County Public Library in Mankato on Tuesday, April 22, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. DNR staff will be on hand to answer questions and receive comments about the draft plan amendment.

Comments on the draft management plan amendment can be emailed to Jade Templin, principal planner, at jade.templin@state.mn.us, or mailed to: Jade Templin, AICP; DNR Division of Parks and Trails; 500 Lafayette Road, Box 39; St. Paul, Minn. 55155-4039. The public review period is open through May 5.

Lisa Brainard is rehabilitating at home after suffering a major fall followed by a stroke in 2012. She can be contacted by e-mailing lbrainard@bluffcountrynews.com