Photos by Cherie Langlois
Bison bull at Trek.
Fed by days of rain, the lush meadows glow a vibrant green on this June afternoon, providing ample forage for the animals grazing hock-deep in the grass.
For a farmer, gnoshing hoofstock are nothing unusual, but on this day, the sight sends me into a photographic frenzy. Because these particular grazing creatures aren’t cattle or horses, domestic goats or sheep; they’re bison cows, with cinnamon-colored calves at their sides, and—just over there—bighorn sheep, a bachelor flock of curly-horned rams.
And here, where the meadow greets the trees: Roosevelt elk reclining elegantly in the sunshine. Animals that called our country home long before we built our farms, towns, cities, and strip malls here.
Mountain goat at Trek.
is a unique 725-acre wildlife park located between Tacoma, Wash. and Mount Rainier National Park—one of the few zoological facilities in this country that displays only regional wildlife. It’s shocking, I know, but you won’t find a single African elephant or lion, tiger or monkey within its boundaries.
The park was founded by David and Connie Hellyer, who purchased the first 100 fire-blackened acres back in 1937 and later envisioned a place where people could learn about native wildlife in a natural setting.
Trumpeter swan chasing bighorn sheep at
Today, the Hellyers’ dream is a wild and beautiful reality: Visitors to Northwest Trek find a forested sanctuary where otters, eagles, porcupine, cougars, wolves, grizzly bears, and other animals live in large, natural exhibits. Out in the 500+ acre free roaming area, the humans occupy cages—propane-powered trams—as they safari through meadows, woods, and wetlands to watch freely-wandering moose, bison, deer, mountain goat, elk and more.
Seeing these animals in this near-wild setting captivates me just as much as it did when I worked a 7-year stint here as a keeper sixteen years ago.
Back then, I knew each day would be different and exciting, thanks to the animals’ fascinating and often unpredictable behaviors (sound familiar?). Sure enough, as our tram creeps along, a graceful white trumpeter swan stops plucking grass to rush, hissing, at the bighorn sheep (probably in defense of its nest and setting mate in a nearby pond).
To everybody’s surprise—including mine, the tough-looking rams scatter and bolt.
Some things never change.
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