A new home for buffalo to roam

Denver officials are considering a $3 million plan to install a herd of bison near the airport.

Imagine if commercial planes could land in the heart of Yellowstone National Park. Now, open your eyes. It's 2002, the Florida recount is finally over, and there are bison grazing not far from Runway 56.

While Denver has no plans to drill another Old Faithful 200 yards from the tarmac, officials are trying to transform the monotonous drive to and from the teepeed terminals of Denver International.

To do that, they're planning to install a herd of the wooly icons as a way to give travelers a real sense they've arrived. While Denver is proud of its title as the "Mile High City," that's not something you can point to out the airplane window or take home as a souvenir.

"It's a way for people to identify with the West," says Andrew Hudson, spokesman for Denver's Mayor Wellington Webb, who supports the plan.

The city already manages one herd that can be seen just off Interstate 70, where millions of cars pass by annually on their way to most of the state's ski resorts - some more slowly than others to gawk at the herd of bison moving slowly through the evergreens. And so far, there is little concern that the bison will be adversely affected by the jet noise and pollution.

"There is nothing incompatible about having buffalo there," says Robert Albin, (aka "Buffalo Bob"), a former chairman of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce who has spearheaded the effort to bring bison to the airport. "We're bringing them back to their natural habitat. I just happen to think it's part of our history and our heritage, and something that would give a little distinctive character to the airport."

When airport planners designed the building's unique white multipeaked roof to evoke regional images - the snow-capped Rocky Mountains as well as the buffalo-skin teepees that native Americans lived in on these same plains centuries ago - they say buffalo were always part of the Western theme, too.

"It adds a motif, more mystique, [the] flavor of Colorado," says Wilma Taylor, special assistant to the manager of aviation at the airport.

But officials also are thinking of giving tourists a real taste of the West. "One of the ideas we had was to also sell buffalo steaks, meatballs, hamburgers at the airport that people could pick up and take back with them," says Ms. Taylor. "If we can get the buffalo roaming, maybe we can make Denver known as a place to get buffalo meat."

Officials point out that at, say, the Nebraska or San Francisco airport, travelers can pick up Omaha steaks or sourdough bread as mementos of their trips.

"When I go to Boston, I pick up lobster," says Mr. Hudson, the mayor's spokesman. "People might want to pick up buffalo steak or buffalo jerky here."

However, airline passengers in those cities don't stare into the soulful gaze of a cow as they hunt for a parking spot before their flights. And there's some question of whether a culture that prefers its chicken boneless is prepared to be confronted with the one-ton version of dinner five minutes before shopping for a little local flavor to take home as a souvenir.

Nonetheless, others are hoping the plan goes through for aesthetic, if not culinary, reasons.

"It's a dull ride out to the airport now," says Tom Noel, a history professor at the University of Colorado at Denver. "All there is is commercial development, and it could turn into a huge ugly drive with Motel 6's. I always thought, 'Why not put something like log cabins out there?' "

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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