|West Virginia State Wildlife Center|
Bison exhibit at the West Virginia State Wildlife Center.
|Elevation||1,745 ft (531.9 m) |
|Area||338 acres (136.8 ha) |
|Owner||West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Section|
|Nearest city||Buckhannon, West Virginia|
The West Virginia State Wildlife Center is a zoological park in French Creek, West Virginia. Operated by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, the Wildlife Center displays many of West Virginia's wildlife, including both native and introduced species. A few of the animals at the Wildlife Center were once found naturally in West Virginia, but were extirpated by the early 1900s (decade).
The Wildlife Center comprises 338 acres (137 ha) and displays 29 different species of West Virginia mammals, birds, and reptiles, which are located along a 1.25-mile (2.01 km)trail through a mature hardwood forest. The animal exhibits are spacious chain-link enclosures within an actual West Virginian forest, which allows the animals to interact with the environment and behave in more natural ways than one would see in most other zoos that attempt to recreate the environment. The Wildlife Center receives about 50,000 visitors per year.
By the early 20th century, many of West Virginia's major fauna were either extirpated or driven dangerously close to extirpation due to uncontrolled habitat loss and overhunting. By 1911, many of the state's most common large mammals, such as elk, bison, wolves, and mountain lions, had been completely eradicated. Even animals that are common in the state today, such as the white-tailed deer and wild turkey, were nearly wiped out by uncontrolled habitat loss and hunting. Growing concerns for West Virginia's wildlife led the state's government to create the French Creek Game Farm in 1923, where native West Virginian wildlife could be bred and reintroduced back into the wild. Eventually, ecologists learned that animals bred in captivity lack the instincts that are necessary to survive in the wild, so the reintroduction projects were discontinued, but the Game Farm remained open as a popular tourist attraction. The Game Farm remained popular because it allowed people to see animals that no longer existed in the state, and also because many of the animals displayed at the Game Farm are too elusive to be commonly seen in the wild, even though several of the species are often found near people's houses.
In 1986, the French Creek Game Farm was renamed the West Virginia State Wildlife Center. Today, the Wildlife Center serves to educate visitors about West Virginia's wildlife of the past and present and about the history of wildlife conservation. In addition to animal exhibits, the Wildlife Center also possesses a gift shop; an additional trail through the forest; picnic areas with grills and picnic tables; and a large fishing pond that is stocked with trout, bass, catfish, and bluegill. Future projects include an educational center, an auditorium, a nocturnal animal exhibit, reptile exhibits, aquatic mammal exhibits, an aviary, and an aquarium.
The West Virginia Wildlife Center is located about 12 miles south of Buckhannon on WV 20, at the intersection of WV 20 and Alexander Road, also known to some locally as "the Game Farm road," referencing the previous name of the facility. To reach the Wildlife Center, take WV 20 from Buckhannon (or from the south, from Flatwoods, use I-79 Exit 67 to US 19 north, WV 4 north, to WV 20 north), then turn onto Alexander Road. The entrance will be on the right after about 1/4 mile.