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State wildlife center celebrates 100th anniversary

Coyotes and bobcats and bears — oh, my! Join the West Virginia State Wildlife Center in celebrating 100 years of education, conservation and appreciation for the Mountain State’s remarkable wildlife.

In 1923, the French Creek Game Farm was established by the Game and Fish Commission. Various species of game birds and deer were raised for reintroduction into the wild, as it became clear these farm-raised animals were not faring well in the wild. However, the facility’s focus moved away from raising game to a center of recreation, outreach and research featuring native and introduced species in West Virginia. In 1986, the French Creek Game Farm was remodeled and renamed the West Virginia State Wildlife Center, as it is known today.

Since this rededication, the center has continued to grow and change over the decades — and it’s done so alongside its many animal residents, specialized staff and generations of visitors.

You can expect to see a wide range of animals that you may have only ever seen from a distance, or perhaps heard about from a friend. Some animals at the Wildlife Center, including the bison, elk and cougar, previously existed in West Virginia but no longer have sustained populations in the state — this provides a glimpse into West Virginia’s natural history. Black bears, bald eagles, wolves and a bobcat are just a few animals you will see dozing, frolicking or socializing during your visit.

“Our goal and mission is to help educate people and give them a chance to see some of the amazing animals we have here in West Virginia up close,” said Wildlife Biologist Trevor Moore. “When people understand animals and the roles they play in nature, people become less afraid, and more invested in wildlife.”

Celebrations for the center’s 100th anniversary have included typical annual events like the Groundhog Day observance with French Creek Freddie, as well as some brand-new plans for the Wildlife Center. Alongside the creation of a new Nature Activity Center encouraging visitors to participate in nature-based crafts and activities, a variety of animal ambassadors from local groups Laurel Fork Falconry and Buckhannon-Upshur High School Zoo have visited. Festive events will take place in October and to mark the year’s end.

“In September, we are inviting anyone and everyone to come out and help us ‘officially’ celebrate the 100th [anniversary],” said Moore.

Unlike the original concept of a game farm, the Wildlife Center has continued to evolve over the past century alongside the latest research and animal husbandry standards — and now emphasizes education and conservation over simple entertainment. 

“For example, we’ve opened the Nature Activity Center with all its hands-on crafts, we provide guided tours around the facility to teach about the animals, and we’ve partnered with non-profit organizations to help encourage good stewardship of our environment/ecosystems,” said Moore.

Although the Wildlife Center is unlike the typical zoo experience, its long history, educational, up-close experience and uniquely West Virginian nature all create a lasting memory for families and individuals alike. 

“I almost always am told of some past memory or experience at the Wildlife Center from many of our locals, or I will be told how they just recently visited again this time with grandchildren and how much fun it is to come back and see the Center again,” said Moore. “I see familiar faces now all year round. It’s awesome to be a part of something that is so dear to so many people, and to see them come back again and again.”

Entry to the Wildlife Center costs $4 for adults, $2 for ages 6-15, and is free to children 5 years and younger. Donations are always welcome. Visit the center’s website at wvdnr.gov/outdoor-recreation/west-virginia-wildlife-center/.

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