Wild beauty at the heart of W.Va.

A day trip to French Creek Wild Life Center and Holly River State Park was a great way to enjoy the wild heart of West Virginia with children.

Remote country roads carried us away from our computer screens and slowed life’s pace as we drove south from Buckhannon on WV Route 20.

Our visit to the West Virginia State Wildlife Center was free of charge. After a picnic lunch from a great new bakery in Buckhannon, we parked and ambled down the paved pathway beside enclosures where wild animals lived as naturally as possible in visible captivity.

The otters were asleep when we reached their warm spot beside a pool with a glass wall where we could have watched them if they had been in a mood to swim and play as they often do. Next we peeked through a window into a snake cave with a warming light keeping a rattlesnake, a copperhead and a black rat snake warm and happy among the rocks.

Next there was an impressive aviary. The collection of eagles, owls, and pheasants was the best I have ever seen. It allowed us to see subtle differences between bald eagles and golden eagles, and between horned owls and barred owls.

Three back bears paced a wooded path, a mountain lion sat under the trees, and a gray wolf slept by some rocks. Being able to see them all so well made us appreciate how fortunate we are to have such creatures in West Virginia.

After we visited the Wildlife Center, we went on Rt. 20 to Holly River. There we were greeted by naturalist Jane Birdsong who gave the children a lesson on WV fish. It was an opportunity to enrich their vocabularies with scientific terms they will see again in high school biology classes. They colored and labeled the dorsal (back) fin and the caudal [tail] fin to name a few.

Next they folded an origami fish and identified the fins on a differently shaped fish then went to feed trout in a small pond near Jane’s cabin. Later in the afternoon Jane taught archery for 12-15 children in a grassy field near the park office before we headed back to Elkins.

For me it was a day to remember how vulnerable the fish in our streams and wildlife in our forests are because of environmental changes brought on by humans.