The Bison Bridge Could Be America’s Newest National Park
A unique mashup of wildlife protection, infrastructure repurposing & recreation looks to span two states.
By: John Shepler
When does an old bridge designated for replacement morph into a national park? When it gets repurposed for pedestrian and bicycle traffic on one side and wildlife, specifically American bison, on the other.
Odd? Yes. Crazy? Not so fast. This is a real concept with a foundation backed by businesses and already on a mission to garner congressional support. It’s the brainchild of Chad Pregracke, a one-time clam digger with a passion for cleaning up the Mississippi River.
What’s His Plan?
There’s a major bridge on I-80 that links Illinois and Iowa at the Quad Cities of Davenport, Moline, Rock Island and Bettendorf. After 55 years of heavy use, that well-worn bridge is in line to be replaced with a more modern design that has wider shoulders to handle the increasing truck traffic and reduce the rising level of crashes. The default plan is to demolish the old bridge once the new one is in place and haul-off the debris.
Seems like a waste of a perfectly good bridge that could be refurbished and repurposed for much lighter duty. Indeed, that’s what Chad and his foundation have in mind. They want the government to keep both bridges. Send the vehicular traffic across the new one. Convert one lane of the old one to a pedestrian path across the Mississippi and combine it with a wildlife corridor on the other. The two would not intermingle, but there would be wildlife and people viewing readily available.
Not Just Any Wildlife
Sure, you could just let whatever stray animals happen to wander across the bridge, but this plan has something bigger in mind… Much, much bigger. The naturalized lane of the bridge would be dedicated to a small herd of wild bison that would be hosted in dedicated grazing lands on each side of the river.
The American Bison is our national mammal and the iconic symbol of American plains. You might know them as buffalo, as in “where the buffalo roam.” They once roamed in massive herds through the “great bison belt” of grassland that ran from Alaska down to the Gulf of Mexico and even east to the Atlantic ocean. Native American tribes considered them sacred and only took what they needed for food and skins. Before the west was settled, bison numbered over 60 million. By the turn of the 20th century, commercial hunting and slaughter along with diseases from domestic cattle had reduced those numbers to less than 600 individuals. Conservation efforts have now boosted the bison population to over 31,000, as they are mostly restricted to national parks and reserves.
An Amazing National Park
The conversion proposal, now known as the “bison bridge”, would be an amazing and unique development. It would attract local and tourist visitors to see the bison and enjoy the scenic views high above the Mississippi. Not only would this be the longest wildlife crossing, it would also be a healthy getaway for visitors to walk or bike the bridge. The Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce sees the economic value to the ares as highly valuable and has thrown its support behind the project. But… this could be something even bigger: A National Park.
Why not? This part of the United States has little in the way of National Park lands. The Bison Bridge seems like an easy way to create a special natural area that also caters to people without having to acquire and repurpose large amounts of real estate that is already claimed. It could be one of the most cost effective parks ever opened to the public.
You Can Help With Just Your Signature
Do you like the idea of this bison bridge and are in favor of the government following through with the design? Well, all the foundation is asking is that you add your name to the list of supporters. You’ll get updates on the project from time to time and your voice will help convince the powers that be to make this a priority. What you won’t get is the all-too-familiar pleas for donations. The idea is to make the Bison Bridge part of our national heritage and supported by our federal government… just like our other national parks.