116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DAVENPORT - Environmentalist Chad Pregracke has a big idea: Create a national wildlife park in the Quad Cities that would let a small bison herd roam across a Mississippi River bridge to graze in 100-acre parks in Iowa and Illinois.
One thing Pregracke made clear Friday is that the Bison Bridge is a proposal and not yet a project.
Even though he's had the idea for years and assembled a Bison Bridge team about two years ago, plans are preliminary.
'It's a big concept. It's never been done in the world,” he said Friday. 'We're now at the point that we've got enough support to give me the courage to put it out there.
'The No. 1 thing we need right now is signatures on our petition to let it be known that the community likes the idea, too.”
Those interested in signing the petition can 'join the herd” at bisonbridge.org. The website also contains a video animation of the project site.
Pregracke is proposing using a span of the Interstate 80 bridge across the Mississippi when that bridge is replaced.
Kevin Marchek, an engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation for 39 years, joined Pregracke's team last year.
He said the Departments of Transportation in Iowa and Illinois are only beginning to consider replacing the 55-year-old bridge, with an environmental impact study now underway. Then comes years of design, budgeting, scheduling and construction.
It would be at least seven years, he said, before the Bison Bridge Foundation would have access to the old span and land on both sides of the bridge for a national park or two state parks.
Reaction to idea
One thing Pregracke said he found most encouraging was a presentation he made to Illinois DOT officials, who acknowledged they were taking the meeting largely as a favor to Marchek.
'They loved the idea,” Pregracke said. 'They said they were prepared to say no, but they were super impressed with the proposal.”
Marchek noted that if Iowa and Illinois transportation planners decide to replace the I-80 bridge where it now stands, the Bison Bridge idea is off the table.
But local leaders like the idea.
'The Mississippi River is our No. 1 asset when it comes to tourism in the Quad Cities,” said Lynn Hunt, a vice president at Visit Quad Cities. 'We get 1.6 million visitors a year now. With a national park, that would quadruple in the first year.”
Jake Ford, the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce's director of government affairs, called the proposal 'big and bold” and said he hasn't seen a better one come along.
'You stop in the Quad Cities (from Interstate 80) if this happens,” he said. 'We're a big supporter.”
What about the bison?
People also are asking if the Bison Bridge idea is a good idea for the bison, something Pregracke said is the most frequently asked question he gets after a presentation.
Jason Baldes, tribal buffalo manager for the Tribal Partnerships Program at the National Wildlife Foundation, said in a video at Thursday night's unveiling of the Bison Bridge that he is proud to be part of the proposal to 'convert vacated lands to bison grazing.”
He is confident the animals' health and safety can be protected, he said Friday.
As young bison 'grow and familiarize themselves with their new environment, they will learn that the bridge is part of their new home, regardless of the elevated span,” he said. 'It will be what they come to know.”
Lee Jackson, director at Niabi Zoo in Coal Valley, said while he is not aware of all the proposal's details, 'bison do quite well in captivity, especially in the kind of space they're talking about.”