Custer State Park celebrates 100 years of buffalo - KOTA Territory News

Custer State Park celebrates 100 years of buffalo

Sixty million buffalo once roamed the Great Plains from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, from Canada to Mexico. Hunting nearly wiped out the population but with efforts by national parks and private ownership the bison are returning. Custer State Park is celebrating its own efforts in sustaining their bison population for the last 100 years.

The Haynes' visiting from Kentucky made a special trip to Custer State Park to admire the buffalo. "Oh it's a once in a life time experience for us especially our first buffalo," said Sandra Haynes.

Gary Brundige, resource program manager for Custer State Park, says these majestic beasts of the plains are a major draw for Custer State Park. "We're known for having one of the largest public herds. A lot of people come to see the buffalo, and they are a big attraction."

Brundige says their big attraction almost wasn't. "A lot of market hunting going on, buffalo were being shot and left to lay and by the turn of the last century there were fewer than 1,000 animals left."

Custer State Park officials decided years ago to preserve the plains' bison after their population declined. "The park got into it because it was a game preserve. It was a native animal that we wanted to restore," said Brundige.

And restoration began with 36 buffalo. "In 1914 they brought buffalo into the park," said Brundige. "The state bought 36 buffalo from Scotty Phillips herd."

The original 36 bison were transported by train from Fort Pierre. "It took 12 days to haul those buffalo from the train station there to Hermosa and into the park here," said Brundige.

And along with helping bring back the buffalo to the Black Hills, the park also plays a role in growing private herds. "We probably have sold 20 to 30 thousand buffalo and these have been a start to a lot of those herds out there," said Brundige.

The Buffalo Round Up each year, a time designated to sell off the excess herd, is not only a way to build up private herds but a way to maintain the park's herd. "We can only support so many so we have to control the numbers. The magic number is 930," said Brundige. After calving season which is well underway that number will grow to about 1,300. "Come fall with the Round Up we will do a sort and sort our surplus of the buffalo and bring that number down."

Custer State Park will be hosting a number of events this summer in honor of its 100 years since buffalo reintroduction.

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