Animal lovers have been flocking to French Creek for almost a century to view a wide variety of animals that are native to the Mountain State, as well as ones that were introduced.
The West Virginia Wildlife Center continues to be a popular destination. Operated by the Wildlife Resources Section of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, the Wildlife Center is dedicated to presenting visitors a realistic and factual understanding of the state's wildlife. It is located 12 miles south of Buckhannon.
West Virginia utilized revenues from the sale of hunting licenses to purchase a 329-acre tract of land along W.Va. 20 in French Creek in 1923. Originally known as the French Creek Game Farm, the facility was used to raise various species of birds and animals.
Expansion came in 1954 when a pair of elk and a pair bison were added. Timberwolves and mountain lions were soon brought in as well, and the collection of exhibits eventually expanded to include white-tailed deer, coyote and the state animal, the black bear.
Over the years, the facility began to erode, and was in need of repair. Between 1984 and 1986, a new design was developed and constructed. In September of 1986, it was dedicated and renamed the West Virginia State Wildlife Center.
Today, the center includes a 1.25-mile wheelchair accessible walking trail that is a winding loop. It gives visitors the feel of actually walking through the forest area as they get to view a wide array of animal exhibits.
The spacious enclosures allow the animals to interact with their environment, where they therefore exhibit more natural behavior patterns. Interpretive signs help the visitor to learn more about each animal's life history, biology and its relationship with humans. Group tours are available upon request.
French Creek gains statewide news attention every February, as French Creek Freddie provides a forecast for the coming spring. The groundhog, which is a cousin to Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil, comes out of his cage each Groundhog Day for the media and residents to determine whether he sees his shadow.
The West Virginia Wildlife Center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information is available by calling 304-924-6211.