Chad Pregracke is an impassioned conservationist who spends his time on barges, cleaning up refuse from the Mississippi River. While on the river, he watches cars drive across a 55-year-old concrete bridge that is meant to be demolished and replaced—but when he sees the aging bridge, he imagines a different future for it: a reserve and wildlife crossing for the American bison, colloquially known as buffalo.
Wildlife restoration and conservation of biodiversity are being taken more seriously as a viable method for combating the negative effects of climate change, and so Pregracke’s proposal to transform the bridge is gaining momentum. The departments of transportation in Iowa and Illinois are seriously considering his idea and believe that they can break ground in as little as five years.
The vision for the bridge is for there to be a pedestrian and bike path on one side, and on the other, an enclosed bison paddock that allows visitors to see the majestic bison at close range. The herds would be free to wander between Iowa and Illinois on the conservation area, which would mark the establishment of the first National Park in either state.
Supporters of the Bison Bridge argue that repurposing the old bridge, rather than destroying it, would reduce waste, save costs, and be an overall benefit for the environment. It would also turn the Quad City area (named for the four cities Bettendorf and Davenport in south-eastern Iowa and Moline and Rock Island in north-western Illinois) into an eco-tourist destination that will generate income and raise awareness for the conservation of bison.
If completed, the Bison Bridge would be the longest human-made wildlife crossing on the planet and will help restore the slowly re-emerging bison population in the region. Native American groups believe that bison restoration helps to recognize the interlinked crimes committed against bison and the Indigenous peoples who relied on them. The bridge will help reconnect the land with its local history and revive the Native Americans’ cultural connection to bison.
Where the Quad Cities now stand was a principal trading center for Indigenous peoples. The once abundant bison were aggressively hunted by the US government to systematically starve Indigenous Americans and drive them off their land. The restoration of the bridge as a bison reserve is an opportunity for the general public to be educated on the history and significance of the region, making the Bison Bridge an important factor both ecologically and culturally.