In the flurry up to the November 6th election, most of us missed our country’s first National Bison Day. It was commemorated on November 1, five days before Republicans and Democrats slugged it out at the polls.
While it’s not clear how one celebrates National Bison Day, I do know pending legislation to designate this stupendous beast that once roamed our country in herds as big as Rhode Island as our official national mammal has proven that elected officials on both sides of the political spectrum can still agree on something
In fact, bills (S. 3248, introduced May 24, and H.R. 6304, introduced August 2) were put forth by Congressmen on both sides of the aisle with co-sponsors from both parties. Yes, an “R” and a “D” on the same bills gives me hope that, just like the bison that rebounded from a straggly herd of 15 at the Bronx Zoo, our cantankerous old Congressmen will eventually come together and do something meaningful.
In the meantime, I went to South Dakota for Governor Dennis Daugaard’s annual Buffalo Roundup. Held at Custer State Park for nearly 50 years, this spectacle involves 1,300 snorting, hairy beasts running across the prairie at speeds of up to 50 miles-per-hour, and cowboys on horses with real chaps and spurs trying to corral them into a giant pen. If it’s not on your bucket list, get it on there fast. It’s truly something to see.
Custer State Park is big (71,000 acres), so you can imagine the task of just finding 1,300 bison — roaming free as they do through the granite spires of Needles Highway, along the park’s 18-mile Wildlife Loop and near Sylvan Lake, the mountain lake sitting at the base of Harney Peak, the highest point east of the Rockies — let alone getting the headstrong creatures to cooperate by running into a pen where they will be inoculated, branded (if they’re calves), culled and either chosen for November’s annual auction that raises some $325,000 for the South Dakota Department of Parks and Recreation or released back into the wild beauty of this park, one of many on the west side of South Dakota.
Between state parks, national parks and national monuments, this part of our country is one big protected Kodak moment after another. There’s the Badlands, the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, Jewel Cave National Monument (with the second longest cave in the world), Wind Cave National Park, Crazy Horse Memorial, Spearfish Canyon, Bear Butte State Park where indigenous Northern Plains tribes go for vision quests and, of course, the magnificent Custer State Park that served as the summer White House for Calvin Coolidge.
For anyone who a) longs to get up close and personal to nature (besides the bison, Custer State Park has elk, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, mountain goats, pronghorn and a herd of 50 feral begging burros who practically climb in your mini-van in search of bread and other treats that they know to expect), b) feels inspired by the possibilities of the human spirit (Gutzon Borglum spent 14 years hanging from ropes while he jackhammered and blasted out Mount Rushmore, and he didn’t even start until he was 60) or c) cheerleads the greatness of our country (American patriotism is the overriding soundtrack in Western South Dakota), should plan a trip here soon.
As for the bison (that once thundered across the plains to the tune of 30 million head), if those bills pass, it will join the Bald Eagle (our official bird since 1782), the rose (our official flower) and the oak (our official tree).