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Wildlife at Your Fingertips
January 30, 2012 - Jodi Burnsworth
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As we all know, there is an abundance of wildlife in West Virginia. Some we see every day, but for others it may only a paw print or glimpse. Fortunately, we can take a short drive to Upshur County and visit the West Virginia State Wildlife Center in French Creek.
Still known to many locals by its previous name, the French Creek Game Farm, the West Virginia State Wildlife Center is a 334-acre zoological facility operated by the Division of Natural Resources.
The Game and Fish Commission purchased the property in Upshur County in 1923 and created the game farm to aid in the reestablishment of wildlife populations in the state. Species such as deer, pheasant, turkey, and quail were raised there, but the breeding programs were discontinued as farm-raised animals often failed to survive in the wild.
The game farm began evolving as a zoo in 1954 when two bison and two elk, species once native to the state, were imported from Oklahoma and kept in outdoor enclosures. Other animals representing native and once-resident wildlife were kept in cages until 1986, when roomier pens making use of natural features were installed on a wooded hillside. It was then renamed West Virginia State Wildlife Center.
Nearly thirty species of animals are present at the Wildlife Center at any one time. A glass-walled snake den houses black snakes, timber rattlers, and other native serpents. Otters occupy a man-made waterfall, stream bank, and pool complex built in the 1990s. Other animals include black bears, mountain lions, wolves, coyotes, deer, elk, and bison. Birds of prey include owls and eagles. A pond equipped with an observation deck provides a home for trout, bluegill, catfish, and bass.
The West Virginia Wildlife Center draws about 50,000 annual visitors, who see the animals while walking along a 1.25-mile trail leading past the enclosures.
On Groundhog Day, I’ll be making the trip to French Creek to see the Wildlife Center’s most famous resident, French Creek Freddie. Stay tuned for my visit with West Virginia’s official weather prognosticator!
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