WILDLIFE PRAIRIE STATE PARK
There is a magical place in central Illinois - a place of wonder, beauty and discovery. This place is Wildlife Prairie State Park, Illinois' only zoological state park.
"The animals that we have here are indigenous to Illinois at the time the pioneers arrived, then we also have animals the pioneers would have brought with them," said Linda Prescott general manager, Wildlife Prairie State Park
Spread out over 2,000 acres, the park is home to more than 150 animals, native to Illinois, from the threatened black bears to the eastern timber wolves. With some patience and a careful eye, you can see a bobcat moving between the trees. For everyone's protection, the animals are in within an enclosed safety zone, but in many cases, you can get as close as 10 feet.
The park also has a reptile exhibit which is very popular with the kids. Box turtles, frogs and three species of venomous snakes!
Next door, the education center offers a variety of up close and personal programs.
"We try to engage the audience and make it fun, and then make sure that they come away with a better appreciation for wildlife," said Bonnie Cannon, education director, Wildlife Prairie State Park.
We learned about the barn owl which contrary to popular belief does not hoot! And, we were introduced to an American kestrel, the smallest and most common North American falcon.
Without a doubt, the most popular animals in the park are the North American bison....that's bison, not buffalo!
"When you go to other countries you might see the Cape Buffalo, the Water Buffalo and ours are different looking, when you look at the hors, the hump on the back, all these things will tell you that you're looking at an American Bison," said Cannon.
There are 18 adult bison here at the park, and three calves, with more on the way. These baby bison have this lighter shade of auburn to protect them from predators, like wolves, that can't distinguish that shade of red.
The calves are 35 to 45 pounds at birth, and within a half an hour, they are up and moving with the herd! If these bison look a little shaggy, it's because they're molting, or shedding their winter coat. It's that thick body fur that protects them from the brutal winters in the open prairie.
The park is just west of Peoria - about a three hour drive from Chicago, so you may want to stay overnight. They have plenty of unique lodging, like a train caboose-turned into a cabin.
Whether you're looking for a weekend getaway with the kids, or a chance to reconnect with nature, a visit to Wildlife Prairie State Park in Hanna City, Illinois is a memory in the making.