National Bison Day debuts today -- but every day is bison day in Denver

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This is the first National Bison Day, a project pushed by groups that would like to make bison the national mammal. For the past century, every day has been a bison day in Denver, since the city has had its own herd since 1914 -- but if other bison boosters had their way, there would be two more herds in the metro area.

Two proposed bison herds have never made an appearance, however.

Back when planning was under way for Denver International Airport, Mayor Wellington Webb proposed putting bison by Pena Boulevard. In fact, Webb made the herd one of the top ten priorities for his second term. But ultimately, his administration was buffaloed by the budget. "We're in the process of rethinking the project," an aide said back in 1995. "We're taking another look at how we can do it. We don't know if it's cost-effective."

The problem was that each buffalo needs twenty acres of grass annually to survive, and the city had only 330 acres of buffalo-suitable acreage along Pena Boulevard. The land would have had to be seeded and watered to grow enough food for the huge creatures, which can grow to more than 2,000 pounds. DIA officials hoped to find a contractor that would support the herd in exchange for the chance to sell bison products inside the airport, but never found any takers.

Then, a year ago, billionaire Ted Turner proposed giving bison to Boulder; the animals would have grazed along Interstate 36 as it headed north into town. So far, though, Boulder has not taken Turner up on the offer. But that's not surprising. After all, at the University Colorado Buffs game against USC last November 5, two of the trainers for Ralphie, CU's real live buffalo mascot, wiped out while they were running around Folsom Field with their woolly, 1,300-pound charge.

But you can still see bison here. In fact, the City of Denver has two herds. Back in 1914, Denver Mountain Parks began caring for the first managed bison herd in Colorado as one of several efforts to preserve the animals, following the establishment of a managed herd in Yellowstone National Park in 1902.

And both of those herds will be on display today from dawn to dusk.

One is located at Genesee Park, twenty miles west of Denver on I-70 at Exit 254. The second is at Daniels Park, about 2.5 miles east of Sedalia on Highway 85.

And for the record, according to Denver Mountain Parks, you can call the animals either bison or buffalo, the name that became popular in the Old West. Today, there are an estimated 515,000 bison in North America, with around 500,000 of them in captive herds.

Just over a century ago, bison were almost extinct. Today, they're tourist attractions -- both in the open, and on your plate. Read how buffalo became a big business in our 2000 cover story "Where the Buffalo Moan."

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Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


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