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Local

Baby bison steal hearts at Fermilab in Batavia

BATAVIA – Suburbia isn't the Wild West, but roaming Batavia is a herd of bison whose members just welcomed a flurry of newborns into the fold. Catching a glimpse of the youngsters is a fun spring outing for families and people of any age at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

On a recent Sunday, photographers and naturalists were among the visitors outside the double-fenced pasture, peering into the tall grass to spot a resting calf half hidden from view. Other bison babies cuddled their moms and all seemed unperturbed by the reverent paparazzi.

"Fermilab is an open nature preserve," visitor Susan Jensen of Geneva said.

She identified the swallowtail birds swooping overhead and recalled that years ago she once spent six hours witnessing a bison birth.

Birds perched on several of the bison, likely looking for an insect snack. About 14 baby bison were expected this season.

A visit to their pasture can be combined with other nature attractions at Fermilab, including an interpretive hiking trail through reconstructed prairie and native woodland. The grounds boast 1,100 acres of tall-grass prairie. The hiking trail is close to the Pine Street entrance, according to Andre Salles of Fermilab's office of communication.

Salles said the bison usually number between 25 and 28, and are a big draw. He said the reason they call the particle physics lab home is thanks to the first director, Robert Wilson, who established a herd in 1969. Recent genetic testing has found the bloodlines to be pure bison, rather than comingled with cattle genes.

"[Wilson] was from Wyoming and wanted to arrange the site so that it served as a metaphor – to keep in the forefront of their minds that they were supposed to be at the frontier of science," Salles said.

The second reason was to remind Wilson of home, said Salles, noting it also was Wilson who initiated the restoration of native prairie.

The Fermilab campus, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, is open to the public without charge. One need only show a photo ID at the checkpoint, and the staffer will offer directions, as needed.

To find the bison pasture, head past the checkpoint through three stop signs and turn north. Depending on where the bison are situated within their expansive pasture, there are parking lots at buildings scattered across the site.

Sensible shoes are recommended to walk through grass. The grounds are open every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

And off the Pine Street entrance is the Lederman Science Center, which offers exhibits on the prairie and hands-on physics displays. The center hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. In addition, the 15th floor of Wilson Hall is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

For up-to-date information for visitors, visit fnal.gov or call 630-840-3351.

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