FRENCH CREEK, W.Va. — Three generations of West Virginia have enjoyed the West Virginia Wildlife Center in Upshur County. The mile long exhibition trail gives visitors an opportunity to get an up close look at the native fauna in West Virginia–some of which is now only available here.
“There are species of wildlife that used to occur in West Virginia and for whatever reason they don’t anymore. Things like elk, buffalo, and mountain lions, they can come and see those here.” said acting manager Rob Sylvester. “If you want to see those species in the wild today, you have to be out west.”
The facility is isolated tucked away along Route 20 south of Buckhannon. The roots of the facility came from a time when it was believed wildlife management could best be served by stocking species.
“It was primarily developed to try to raise turkey,” said Sylvester. “It was found very quickly those animals didn’t have the survival instincts and characteristics to survive in the wild. Instead one of our biologists, Wayne Bailey came up with the idea of trapping and transferring wild birds to areas which had suitable habitat but no birds. That was one of our most successful programs and it got its start right here.”
Today, the facility is mainly a tourist attraction and an educational facility, but occasionally it’s still used for research.
“We had a student here a few years ago who did a feeding trial study. She wanted to see if some of the different type of flower seeds went through the digestive system of a deer would still be viable,” said Sylvester. “What better way to do that than here at the Wildlife Center.”
Occasionally the facility is also used as a training ground for Division of Natural Resources employees. Biologist are often trained in the use of immobilization drugs, used to capture animals for research work.
The main mission today of the Wildlife Center is to show those native animals in their natural habitat. The otter exhibit is one of the most vivid examples. Visitors can see otters from both above and below the surface of the water. Rarely are otters seen by most in the wild. Sylvester said fishers are another good example.
“That’s one species we at first thought didn’t really occur in our state,” he said. “Every once in a while one will show up in trapping records or get hit by a car, but you can come here and see them.”
The Wildlife Center is open every day of the year. There’s a nominal admission fee in the spring and summer months.