November 5, 2013

The Carroll County Conservation Board is determined that the sole surviving Swan Lake bison won't be lonely for long.

After the recent death of one of the two bison living and grazing at Swan Lake State Park, the board is on the hunt for a companion for the one that's left. Members discussed the search at a board meeting Monday evening.

Carroll County Conservation director Jason Christensen said he has called several bison breeders throughout the state and also is hoping to speak with the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge to see if it has a bison available.

Although the pasture area near Swan Lake that houses the bison probably doesn't have room for more than two bison, having a second one there is a priority.

"We'd definitely like to replace the one that passed away," Christensen said. "Bison are herding animals; they're kind of a social creature."

The deceased bison's head will be mounted in the Conservation Education Center.

Board members also discussed a man who has been camping in a tent at Riverside Park near Coon Rapids.

The man, whom board members believed was homeless, did odd jobs around town and camped at the park in a tent throughout the summer.

"It was kind of his home," said Christiansen, adding he's not sure what the man's name is. "Some of the concern was him using our campgrounds as a residence. That's not our purpose for it."

He set up the tent in various locations, sometimes back in the trees, making it difficult to keep track of him, members said.

"I keep getting comments from the locals, and they won't go up there if he's around," said David Burmeister, the board's secretary.

The campgrounds have been closed since the end of October. Board members weren't sure where the man is now, although they said he might have found housing.

Despite their concern, the board members said that since the man paid the $10-per-night charge to stay at the campground, there isn't much they could do if he returned next summer, beyond enforcing the rule that those using the grounds leave for at least a day after being there for two weeks.

"If he's back next summer, we can definitely enforce the 14-day thing," Christensen said. "Technically, he just has to leave for 24 hours, and then he can come right back. We really can't not let him camp there because people don't like him."

Other topics discussed at the meeting included the Sauk Trail resurfacing project and bids for agriculture leases Carroll County Conservation offers.

The resurfacing planned for the Sauk Rail Trail, which runs between Swan Lake and Black Hawk State Park at Lake View, is estimated to cost $550,000, although early engineering plans will narrow down the cost, Christensen said. Carroll County Conservation has $250,000 from a Department of Transportation regional enhancement grant and plans to begin raising funds to gather the rest of the money.

Carroll County Conservation has three parcels of land it leases. One is used by area FFA students, and the others are auctioned off. Several bids came in for the two available parcels - four for land near the Tigges Wildlife Area and Addition, and five for land by Great Western Park. The board decided to wait to make a decision.

The board's next meetings will be Dec. 2 and Jan. 6 at the Conservation Education Center.