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Belwin Conservancy, a nonprofit that preserves, maintains and restores native prairie in Afton and West Lakeland, will hold the 11th annual bison festival 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 18 at Belwin’s Lucy Winton Bell Athletic Fields at 15601 Hudson Rd. in West Lakeland. (Submitted photo)

A herd of juvenile bison from a Wisconsin-based meat producer will make local prairie their summer stomping grounds Saturday. 

Belwin Conservancy, a nonprofit that preserves, maintains and restores native prairie in Afton and West Lakeland, will hold the 11th annual bison festival 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 18 at Belwin’s Lucy Winton Bell Athletic Fields at 15601 Hudson Rd. in West Lakeland.

NorthStar Bison will release a herd of 40 juvenile male bison to their summer home on the conservancy, said Susan Haugh, Belwin Conservancy’s program director. Ojibwe elder Sharon Day will also offer a blessing for the bison before they are released, she said.

Haugh said the festival helps Belwin Conservancy educate the public about the importance of prairie and woodland conservation as well as how the bison are an important part of that ecosystem. If the weather is nice, Haugh said she expects up to 1,000 people to attend the free festival. The festival goes on rain or shine.

“Our mission is to inspire people through nature,” Haugh added.

The festival’s new activity this year is a machinery petting zoo where community members can interact with the machines Belwin staff use to restore and maintain the prairie and woodlands. For example, Belwin staff combat the invasive species buckthorn with specific tools that attendees can touch and learn about, Haugh added.

For the second year, Belwin Conservancy will hold a 5K “Run with the Bison” trail run before the bison release.

“They’ll have an intimate relationship with that prairie by running through it,” Haugh said. “It’s a creative way of getting people to interact with nature.”

Eco-artists will also return this year. The featured artists are Tom Bierlein, who creates structures with dirt; Mischa Kegan, who will teach attendees about bison and prairie through a stenciling activity; Teri Power, who creates pinch pots with natural grasses found on the prairie; and Ian Hanesworth, an interdisciplinary artist.

Haugh said ArtReach St. Croix’s mobile art gallery will also make an appearance at the festival, where staff will encourage participants to write haiku poems about their experience on the prairie.

Red Eye Ruby, Sarah M. Greer and Dean Magraw will also provide live music from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The bison release is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.

If those who attend are hungry for more than art and scenic landscapes, the Afton Alps Food Truck, Alimama’s Sambusa, Current Restaurant and Twin Cities Pita will also be on site.

For a schedule for events and link to register for the run, visit belwin.org/events/306.

Contact Kim Schneider at kim.schneider@ecm-inc.com

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