Bob Grant earned a number of nicknames during his 20 years in the Kansas legislature.
Among them was “Buffalo Bob,” a title he earned for his ongoing efforts advocating that the bison herd located along U.S. Highway 69 north of Frontenac be maintained for generation after generation to enjoy.
A bill recently announced by Rep. Adam Lusker, (D-Frontenac), now seeks to permanently attach Bob Grant’s name to the local herd.
“It’ll name the bison here in Crawford County the Bob Grant Bison Herd,” Lusker said. “Bob was instrumental in ensuring that they continue to live in Southeast Kansas.”
The original idea was proposed by Rob Lessen, of Arma, on Facebook shortly after he received the news that Grant had died. It gained momentum and support in the days that followed.
“That was one of his passions, keeping that open,” Lessen said. “I don’t know how many administrations wanted to close that park.”
The park is part of a 418-acre parcel donated in 1926 to the “Kansas Forestry Fish and Game Commission” which included an enclosure constructed on the south side of the property between 1928 and 1930, according to David Jenkins, of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
Lessen said he suggested the idea as a fitting way to honor Grant’s work on behalf of the second district.
“Bob and I didn’t agree on politics most of the time, but his decisions were based on what he thought was good for the people of his district,” Lessen said.
“Bob played a crucial role in the protection of these dwindling symbols of Kansas, and American, history,” Lusker said, adding the number of bison in Kansas has been decreasing.
This herd, in particular, has had challenges stemming from the small grazing space in the 31-acre enclosure as well as the difficulty of re-establishing native grass in the enclosure’s wet conditions.
“We looked at discontinuing the bison herd because local management didn’t feel like it was in line with the public lands sections mission goals,” Jenkins said, adding that he would have preferred to see the efforts spent on the maintenance of the area rather than the zoo-like display of bison.
But, he said Grant’s passion for the project won, and the habitat now is being rehabilitated.
Three years ago the herd was moved to an alternate location near Big Brutus at the intersection of Northwest Coalfield Road an Northwest 60th Street, and native grasses have been replanted, including big and little bluestem grass, Indian grass, switch grass, eastern gamagrass, blackeyed Susan, Illinois bundle flower, purple prairie clover and Mexican hat.
“We moved the bison to restore the open site to native grass, which not only benefits the bison, but it also benefits other wildlife,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said work to reestablish the grass has been ongoing and the bison remain at their alternate location, but many look forward to when the herd is able to return.
“Being somebody raised here and going by that park and seeing the buffalo, that was always part of my world,” Lessen said.
“We take them for granted, but oftentimes it’s the only time that someone whose state animal is the buffalo ever has the opportunity to see a buffalo,” Lusker said. “Our hope is to get them back soon.”
He said the bill to honor Bob Grant by naming the herd also has been a source of unification in Topeka, with both Democrats and Republicans signing on.
“The speaker of the house and majority leader both were among the first to sign, as were all of Bob’s colleagues that he worked with on the Democratic side,” Lusker said.
— Sarah Gooding is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.