ANTELOPE ISLAND STATE PARK – Hundreds of bison were rounded up during an annual event Saturday as guests watched and even participated.
Antelope Island is home to one of the largest publicly-owned bison herds in the nation, and Saturday it looked like a scene out of the “Wild Wild West”.
She may be young, but Mckinely is Utah’s biggest bison fan and was this year’s Antelope Island Bison Roundup Ambassador.
“I just like seeing the Bison and the roundup,” she said.
She is only six years old, but she already has a long history with the island. When she was born she had to stay in Primary Children's Hospital for a few months.
“After she came out of the hospital, she came out here to Antelope Island and grandpa bought her a little stuffed bison,” said McKinley’s dad, Dustin Merritt. “…and from then on it was like no puppy dogs, no cats or anything: She just really liked bison."
She's slept with her stuffed bison every day since. Dad says it’s been a comfort as she's undergone more surgeries, including open heart surgery.
Every chance she gets, McKinley comes to watch her favorite animals. After seeing her big eyes last year, the park manager decided she should be the guest of honor.
“And about three or four days ago he showed up at our house with a gift bag for her, and with her bandanna and her shirt and stuffed animal and a statue,” Merritt said.
As the bison were moved from one side of the island to the other, McKinley wasn't the only one with big eyes. People were spread out all over the island.
The park says this year’s 30th annual roundup brought in their biggest crowd ever. More than 200 people on horseback helped move the animals to where they could be corralled.
Rangers will let them rest for a few days before checking their health one by one next week.
“We'll run them through, give them their physicals, check their health, we'll vaccinate the little ones,” said Clay Shelley, a curator at Antelope Island State Park.
Around 200 new bison are born every year at Antelope Island. The park estimates there are about 700 on the island. Rangers say in order to make sure there is enough land and food for survival, the roundup helps thin the herd.
“We also use it as an opportunity to sell about 200, this year about 270,” Shelley said.
Shelly also said because of the fire that burned more than 1,500 acres this summer, there is not as much grass for the bison to eat.
“…see what the winter brings, but we are going to probably have to feed them a bit this winter to get them through the winter," Shelley said. "[It's the] first time that we’ve ever really had to do that."
For those that pay to saddle up, it's a once in a lifetime experience.
“It was awesome, even got a little western this morning,” said Doug Parker, who helped with the round up.
And like McKinley, many can’t wait to come back.
“I really like when they like chased it," she said.
You too can check out the bison up close next weekend. As for the bison that will be sold, many will go to private ranches, a select few will be tagged for hunting, and others will be harvested.
For more information about the bison and the park, click here.