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.
Northwest 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.