Hey Minnesota, come meet the Blue Mounds bison herd

A bison cow with her calf.
A Blue Mounds bison cow tends to a sore inflicted by an amorous bull while her calf nurses.
Jim Brandenburg | Courtesy Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine

If you've ever wanted to get up close and personal with a bison — safely — here's your chance.

Starting Friday, you can reserve spots online for a Department of Natural Resources guided 90-minute driving tour of about 100 bison and the prairie they live on at Blue Mounds State Park in southwestern Minnesota.

Reservations are good for tours on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays this summer through Labor Day. The tour vehicle can carry 12 passengers, with one space able to accommodate a wheelchair, the DNR said.

"This is an exciting addition to Blue Mounds State Park," park manager Chris Ingebretsen said in a statement. "This enables park visitors to get unique views of our endangered ecosystem native prairie. They will also learn more about the park's bison herd."

Here are the basics:

• Tours for ages 13 and older cost $10; children ages 4-12 cost $6. Children under age 4 are not allowed on the tour for safety reasons.

• To get into the park, you'll need a state parks vehicle permit, which cost $7 per day or $35 per year.

• Find more information at the DNR's Blue Mounds website.

The herd is a part of the Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd managed by the DNR and Minnesota Zoo.

They're special beasts. "Genetic testing of the herd from 2011-2014 found them largely free of any genetic material that would have come from cross-breeding with cattle," the DNR said. "Less than 1 percent of all American plains bison tested so far have been found free of cattle genes."

There's also a Minnesota bison herd at Minneopa State Park, near Mankato. There, people can drive their own cars on a dirt roadway that circles the bison habitat.

Officials say the money for the Blue Mounds tours comes from the state Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund and the Minnesota Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment. Eventually, they hope to create a 500-bison herd at multiple spots around Minnesota.

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