Who doesn’t love animals?
If you’re looking for a kid-friendly day trip, then head on out to the West Virginia Wildlife Center, in Upshur County, WV.
Operated by the WV Division of Natural Resources, the Wildlife Center displays a number of the state’s native wildlife, in addition to a few introduced species.
We were the only ones there the weekend — a chilly February Saturday — we visited, but a staff member cheerfully waved at us as she zoomed by on her UTV; large buckets rattled around in the back of her UTV, and we figured she was off to feed the animals. Sure enough, a few minutes later, we enjoyed hearing wolf howls — the first hint that wolves were there. LOVED it!
The 1.25-mile loop is paved and wheelchair accessible and stroller friendly; in addition, there are several benches located along the trail. The trail is well-shaded, which will keep it cooler during the hotter months.
I always prefer to visit zoos and parks like this in the winter — generally the animals are more active than in the summer heat. And it’s usually less crowded. On the day we visited, I don’t think it could have been less crowded than it was — we were the only ones there.
In addition to the wolves, there were elk, bison (who knew they were native to West Virginia??), mountain lions, bear (still in hibernation, so we didn’t get to see them), and a variety of raptors, including bald eagle, golden eagles, red-tailed hawk and several species of owls.
Interpretive signs helped us learn more about each animal’s life history, biology and its relationship with humans.
The animals are all healthy and happy. A few came running to meet us — the mountain lions pretended to be playful kitties and followed us along the trail; we could hear them purring! Despite the proximity, we felt safe, and they were safe, because of the protection from well made cages.
Their pens are well designed to show off the animals but maintain their privacy and give them space away from always having to be on display.
Except for the bears and grey fox, the animals were active and we got to see almost all of them.
I felt sad that these beautiful animals couldn’t be living in the wild, but it was clear, for example, with the eagles, that injuries prevented their release back into the wild. So these animals are ambassadors, to educate the public and advocate for caring for and preserving their habitats.
In 1923, the Game and Fish Commission purchased property in Upshur County and created the French Creek Game Farm. As its name implies, several species such as quail, pheasant, turkey and deer were raised on the area. Later, elk were introduced to the breeding program on the Game Farm, and still later, bison were brought from Oklahoma.
These species were used in an attempt to reintroduce wildlife throughout the state. However, it became evident that farm-raised animals failed to develop the necessary skills for survival in the wild and these programs were discontinued.
Knowing these animals cannot be released into the wild makes it easier to see them in pens. They were healthy looking and had room to explore their surroundings and had dens and trees for shelter. As we strolled from pen to pen and read the informative signs, we learned about the local flora and fauna, including some surprises — bison, of course, which I mentioned earlier. But I also did not realize that pheasant are NOT native to North America. There are restrooms and picnic tables if you wish to stay longer or pack a picnic. During warmer months, the gift shop and a small snack shop are also open.
Getting there: 163 Wildlife Rd, French Creek, WV
Hours: open seven days a week including weekends and holidays. Subject to change due to weather conditions. April 1 – October 31, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Nov 1 – March 31, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.