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Get a Glimpse of Native Illinois Wildlife on their Winter Break–Join the Wildlife Prairie State Park

Just a couple hours west of Chicago a herd of bison is taking the winter off from delighting kids. Wildlife Prairie State Park–a unique combination of wildlife center, praire re-enactment and park–closes for the winter.

The animals in big herds, the elk and bison, are taken off public display to give their summer pastures a rest, says park spokesperson Kelly Stickelmaier. The enclosures (80 acres for the elk) are big enough to approximate a natural setting, but not so huge you can’t see them. (Just check the park’s very active flickr group and you can see how much of the animals visitors can see.)

The park’s 18 bison are especially cooperative, coming up to the viewing stand, where they’re fed at 1 o’clock.  “The elk are a little more persnickety, especially the boys,” Stickelmaier says. Because the bison herd reproduces, the park sells off however many are born each year to keep the total at 18.

Badger at WPSP
Badger at WPSP,
originally uploaded by Mark Koonce.

I don’t think I’ve seen another wildlife park that has badgers–and, believe me, I’ve looked. They’ve also have otters, eagles that came in through wildlife rehabilitation, skunks, bobcats and cougars.

Philantrhopist Will Rutherford started the park in 1978 mainly as a kind of rehab area for animals from the Brookfield Zoo. The park eventually shifted to native animals, then Rutherford gave the park to the state in 2000.

 Rutherford’s family’s Forest Park Foundation still supports the park, the Peoria Journal-Star says, but it can’t make up for all the money now disgraced governor Rod Blagojevich cut from their budget. In one of his last acts, Blago used a line item veto to chop $828,000 from the Peoria park’s $1.2 million budget, prompting worries it would close, according to Prairie State Outdoors. The park has come up with some creative ways to raise and save money to support their animals. You can still visit while the park is closed in winter if you become a member or rent a cottage. You can rent out a room for a business meeting or party–maybe even the one that looks out on the wolf pen. And they’ve even loaned out a couple bears. Certainly it’s worth a visit and maybe a membership.

Join Wildlife Prairie State Park
Find other places to see wildlife in the Midwest with this map
Where can I find the nearest buffalo herd?

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