Well-kept secret may soon be a hiking hot spot

A little-known trail in northwest Nebraska has burst into the national spotlight. The Bison Trail, a three-mile hike between the Hudson-Meng Education and Research Center and Toadstool National Geologic Park, has been named one of the top 10 trails for a memorable spring hike by USA Today. It’s listed among such well-known spots as the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park and Kalalau Trail in the Napali Coast State Park in Kauai, Hawaii.

The research center where the trail begins is tucked into the hills and surrounded by Ponderosa pines and mixed grasslands. It’s home to a modern archaeological excavation in progress.

Within a mile of the center hikers encounter a preserved grassland region — part of the Oglala National Grasslands — that is a bird watchers paradise. A diverse collection of songbirds, as well as rarely seen species such as long-billed curlews and sharp-tailed grouse, can be seen. Pronghorn and mule deer frequent the area.

Wildlife is drawn to the area by a natural spring — one of the only sources of water between the White and Cheyenne Rivers, which are about 30 miles apart.

“People get excited by efforts to save the Amazon rain forest because nearly 50 percent has been lost. But we’ve lost 99 percent of this nation’s grasslands,” said Dennis Kuhnel, director of the National Grasslands Visitors Center.

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