I’ve found that most kids of all ages (my teenage son being the exception) enjoy animal attractions, so it’s quite likely that we’ll have at least one zoo or other animal-focused outing on our trips. While planning our West Virginia trip, I was intrigued when I read that there was a state wildlife facility. Located in a rural area near the center of West Virginia, the center focuses on wildlife that currently lives or used to live in the state. If you are staying at Holly River State Park, it is about an hour’s drive. The Wildlife Center is also a very inexpensive excursion, setting you back just $3 for adults, and $1.50 for children.
Most of the animals are found along a one-mile walking trail, but we were advised when we arrived that we should first drive to see the elk before parking near the walking trail. Your visit to the West Virginia Wildlife Center can either be self-guided, or you can opt for one of the free guided tours that leave at 11 am and 2 pm. We chose a self-guided tour. The first animal we encountered was the mighty bison.
We learned that in 1865, an estimated 300 million bison roamed North America, including West Virginia. Their numbers were greatly reduced by years of relentless slaughter. Now bison are confined to zoos, ranches, and public lands. Here’s a closeup photo kindly supplied to me by the West Virginia Department of Commerce.
Next on the trail are the river otters. I just love otters. They are so cute and playful. The WV Wildlife Center has created a beautiful habitat for their otters.
Also, take note from this photo that the trail goes through a beautiful wooded area. During the summer, it provided some refreshing shade. I bet the fall color would be gorgeous there.
Even though we had already learned quite a bit about West Virginia snakes during the naturalist program at Holly River State Park, we were able to see even more snakes at the Wildlife Center. Thankfully, this time they were behind glass!
Can you pick out the Timber Rattlesnake and the Northern Copperhead? Those are the only types of poisonous snakes found in West Virginia.
The Mountain Lion was native to West Virginia, but was gone from the state by 1900.
Next up was the deer habitat. We found it quite amusing that somewhere between the snakes and the mountain lion, we saw a wild deer walking through the park. My kids and I aren’t sure that the deer exhibit was really necessary. But the Department of Commerce sent me a beautiful deer photo, so I’m going to share it.
Next was the gray wolf. These also fit into the category of former West Virginia residents.
Now, I’m almost out of the beautiful professional photographs of the animals. Mine didn’t turn out very well for a couple reasons. First, there were two fences. I decided to follow the rules and stay behind the first fence which meant that the chain link fence was between me and the animals. Second, my teenage son kept saying, “C’mon Mom! Let’s go. You’ve seen a ______ before.” So please use your imagination with those photos and pretend that the fence isn’t in the way.
The Red Fox: a current resident of West Virginia.
The Bald Eagle: a casual resident.
There are many other bird varieties there also. What my son first thought was a turkey vulture turned out to be a wild turkey. Further down the trail was a turkey vulture. It would have been nice to have them side by side to compare them. Several types of owls are exhibited. Somehow I managed to get a decent picture of this Ring-Necked Pheasant without a fence in the way.
Bobcats still live in West Virginia, but are very shy, so you are not likely to see one in the wild.
The last animal picture worth showing is the Black Bear. My photos of the Wild Boar and Coyote weren’t good. The Wild Boar was lying down, taking a nap, and refused to cooperate with me.
Once you’ve finished walking the animal trail, there’s no need to leave. You could easily make your visit to the WV Wildlife Center a full-day outing. There’s a beautiful shaded picnic area near the elk habitat.
If you didn’t plan ahead and pack a lunch, you can purchase food from the snack bar inside the visitor’s center. There isn’t a huge variety, but it works in a pinch. They have hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, and snow cones. While you’re in there, you should check out the rather large gift shop for some souvenirs of your visit to West Virginia. After lunch, you have a few options. You could hike the Old Oak Trail, a 1.3-mile trail through the forest. The trail has interpretive signs along the way and takes about 1.5 hours to walk at a moderate pace. Another option is spending a leisurely afternoon at the Fishing Pond, which is stocked with bass, bluegill, catfish, and trout. The Swiss village of Helvetia is worth a day trip of its own, but if you’re short on time, Helvetia is just 23 miles from the Wildlife Center and could be combined together in a day trip.
Ready to visit?West Virginia State Wildlife Center State Route 20 French Creek, West Virginia 26218 (304) 924-6211 $3 Adults $1.50 Children (3-15) Free – children under 3 You might also be interested in:
West Virginia – Holly River State Park West Virginia – Swiss Village of Helvetia