Located in North-Central West Virginia, the West Virginia State Wildlife Center (www.wvdnr.gov/wildlife/wildlifecenter.shtm) offers an excellent educational interpretation of the state’s wildlife. Operated by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, the center houses both native and introduced species in natural settings at their French Creek compound. And the good news is, even though it’s out in the wilds of West Virginia, great efforts have been made to make the wildlife center more accessible for wheelchair-users and slow walkers.
There’s level access to the gift shop, where you pay the very reasonable $4 entrance fee. From there, a mile-and-a-quarter trail runs through the facility, with interpretive signs along the route. The trail is paved and wide, and although people with power wheelchairs and scooters may be able to manage the first hill, it’s best for manual wheelchair-users to take the trail in reverse.
If the first part of the trail is too steep for you, then head back to the gift shop parking lot and pick up the trail at the other end. Along the way you’ll see lots of native wildlife including wolves, eagles, skunks, boars and coyotes. Once you reach the cougars you may have to turn around if you can’t manage the last hill.
Still for the most part the trail is accessible, and although it splits off in places, the accessible routes are well marked. It’s a pleasant stroll along a shaded path through the forest.
There is also a separate elk viewing area which you can reach by car. From the gift shop parking lot take a left, go through the second parking area and take the first left. The short road leads down to the picnic area, but the elk are usually down by the water, so the best way to see them is to just stop along the way. There is accessible parking at the end of the drive, and there’s level access to the covered picnic area. Even if the elk are a little shy, it’s a pleasant place to enjoy a picnic lunch.