I think that I’ve successfully made it a habit now to look for a nonprofit or sanctuary to visit every time we travel. It turns out coming home to Indiana has a ton of awesome options! Kankakee Sands being one of them.
My mom had heard of a nature reserve that has bison, just north of the house where I grew up.
When I looked it up, I found that it’s funded by The Nature Conservancy! Which honestly, gave me a sense of relief, because it seems to be a genuinely good nonprofit. (I hadn’t had that luck earlier in our trip in the Bahamas.)
As a side note, I discovered The Nature Conservancy as a nonprofit organization about a year ago, and I’ve absolutely loved following them as a nonprofit. They send out campaigns often, where they ask for your signature, or that you contact your congressman or congresswoman. And they make it super easy to do. They also share articles constantly, about what’s happening for nature and wildlife throughout the US.
So how cool is it that they have a conservancy in my backyard? And it has bison! BISON!
So we went bison hunting in the only right way to do any hunting – with our eyes and cameras. ;-)
To find it in Google Maps, type in “Kankakee Sands Bison Viewing”. It’s a quick few minute drive off of Highway 41 to the west, about an hour and a half south of Chicago. There is one gravel road, so be prepared for that.
On the way in, my niece and I were 100% positive we saw 4 bison! I will admit that they looked smaller to me than I had imagined. Turns out… they were deer. But hey! To this now bonafide city girl, those deer were pretty darn cool too! So keep your eyes peeled for wildlife as soon as you turn off of Highway 41. You drive along the conservancy land on your way into the visitor parking lot.
As we approached the parking lot, we saw our one and only bison spotted for the day. We decided that he must be the token mascot for the land because he hangs out by the front so that everyone can see him.
We walked over and got these photos after we parked. He stood up when he saw us approach (it’s desolate out there so you hear every foot step). But he laid back down not long after we stood snapping photos. No need to entertain, or make eye contact. ;-)
There are some great history signs that explain what this area used to be, and how it became what it is now. I learned something brand new. This area was once the biggest lake in Indiana! Now it is literally ALL dry land. Not an ounce of water in site (at least from the visitor’s area).
The Nature Conservancy’s goal is to bring back the natural ecosystem that once thrived here. Apparently bison roamed the land of Indiana back in the 1600’s and 1700’s. But at this point, 99% of Indiana’s natural ecosystem has been lost to agricultural development. 99%! I can feel that stat in the pit of my stomach as I repeat it.
The Nature Conservancy started working on this land at Kankakee Sands in 1996, and 23 bison were added in 2016. They have successfully reproduced, and there are more now. They’ve introduced 600 native plants, and continue to perform controlled burns to slowly bring the land back to a natural state.
My favorite fun fact learned for the day… bison are herbivores! Awe my heart. I love my fellow herbivores. ;-)
If you visit:
- It can get hot if it’s that time of year, so bring sunscreen and a hat.
- With the kids, I’d recommend trying to go in the early morning when it’s not too hot (if it’s Summer) because there isn’t much shade coverage.
- There are bugs that bite, so I would wear long pants and long sleeves if possible. If it’s too hot, bring your bug repellent along.
- The tracks are very easy to hike, and they’re not long, no problem for kids. I would have everyone in sneakers though.
- Bring binoculars so that you can look into the distance for the herds.
- Bring lunch/snacks because you will be “out in the middle of nowhere”. You’ll have to drive to find a grocery store or restaurant. Which let’s be clear, I do recommend. You’ll love quiet, small town Indiana!
What to bring:
- bug repellant