Through the years, three local attractions have formed a wildlife hot spot along Interstate 44 in West County. Taken together, these three destinations offer local families a chance to get back to nature without breaking the bank or burning a week's vacation.
The first two attractions – the World Bird Sanctuary and Lone Elk Park – are located less than a mile apart in Valley Park. Both are open year round and are free to the public.
The World Bird Sanctuary sits on more than 300 acres of Missouri hardwood forest. Its 25-person staff is dedicated to supporting the needs of threatened bird species and their environments.
Most visits to the sanctuary begin at the new Visitor's Center (see related article) and the Nature Center, which houses an array of birds, mammals and reptiles and a variety of educational exhibits. The sanctuary also boasts a number of walking paths and hiking trails where visitors can experience bird and wildlife exhibits among a wooded backdrop.
The sanctuary also is home to a wildlife hospital where a staff of veterinarians and volunteers treat and rehabilitate more than 300 ill or injured birds each year. The World Bird Sanctuary also offers a wide range of programs for small groups, schools and scouts.
The sanctuary is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Nearby Lone Elk Park offers wildlife viewing of a very different nature. Like the World Bird Sanctuary, Lone Elk is home to a wide variety of winged wildlife including wild turkeys, Canada geese and other waterfowl. But the real draw is the big game. As the name suggests, the 500-plus-acre park is home to a large number of elk that roam the grounds freely. The wildlife management area also houses a herd of bison and a large population of white tailed deer. Most of these animals can be viewed without ever leaving the car, but the park does boast a number of great hiking trails, lakes and picnic areas. It's an ideal location for families but domestic animals – even when confined to the car – are forbidden.
In Eureka, just a few miles west of the World Bird Sanctuary and Lone Elk Park is the Endangered Wolf Center – formerly the Wild Canid Survival and Research Center but known to most locals simply as "The Wolf Sanctuary." Founded in 1971, the center has become a world leader in helping to recover wild wolf populations in the United States and abroad. Today, the center is home to five species of wolves and other wild canids. Of the 40 animals currently living at the Endangered Wolf Center, 25 are Mexican Gray Wolves, the world's most endangered subspecies of gray wolves. Other animals at the center include Red Wolves, Maned Wolves, Swift Foxes and African Wild Dogs.
The center offers two types of daytime tours. The two-hour program/tour combination is offered at 10 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It starts with an hour-long program that includes a short film and a lecture centered on a "Discovery Box" filled with animal pelts, bones, radio collars and more. Following the program, visitors are treated to a one-hour tour of the wolf enclosures, where families can watch the animals frolic in their wooded habitats. The program/tour combination is $10 per person.
Those who prefer to skip the film and lecture portion of the program, such as those with very small children, can simply opt for the one-hour tour of the wolf enclosures. These tours are offered at 1 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The cost is $8 per person.
Reservations are required for both tour types.
The Endangered Wolf Center also hosts a number of evening programs and offers a summer camp for children ages 10 to 13.
World Bird Sanctuary
125 Bald Eagle Ridge Road, Valley Park, Mo.
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Lone Elk Park
1 Lone Elk Park Road, Valley Park, Mo.
Open daily 8 a.m. to 30 minutes past sunset
(Elk photo courtesy of St. Louis County Parks and Recreation)
Endangered Wolf Center
6750 Tyson Valley Road, Eureka, Mo.
(Wolf photo courtesy of Endangered Wolf Center)