Preston County WV

Escape to the Hovatter Wildlife Zoo

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Mother  Giraffe at Hovatter’s Wildlife Zoo Kingwood WV summer 2020

So West Virginia is not known for its large selection of Zoos or animal parks. But with our family spending so much time at home with the Coronavirus it was nice to spend a morning at the West Virginia family-owned and operated Hovatters Wild Animal Zoo. Every time we go I can’t help thinking about the movie “We Bought a Zoo”. This morning’s trip  was well worth the entry fee and we all came home feeling happy. A day spent with animals that well cared for is alway a day well spent.

Hovatter is an ever-growing and evolving collection of animals and displays. Over the course of their 28 years in operation, they have been home to several different collections of animals. So every time we visit we have seen something different and the cages and habitats are always improving.  On this trip, we were able to see several different baby animals. Although I didn’t get to take many photos of them we still enjoyed watching them. This spring we got to see baby monkeys, baby wort hogs, and baby birds.

The highlight of every trip is feeding and petting some of the safe animals in the collection. My personal favorite is feeding the Giraffes and the Parakeets. As you can see from the above photo the Giraffes are friendly and gentle.  This mother Giraffe and her baby, who is at least 11 feet tall, spend their day greeting visitors and eating all the carrot sticks you can give them.img_20200602_101311266

The newest attraction that we visited was the Parakeet aviary. I absolutely fell in love with this enclosure. Since we were some of the very first people to arrive the birds were hungry. 80 little birds wanted to feed, swarming us when we produced popsicle sticks covered in bird seed. If you have any fear of birds I would not suggest this experience as we had birds everywhere. As you can see Paige my granddaughter ended up with a Parakeet in her hair.

 

We spent a great deal of time watching the birds and hand-feeding them.  This for me was worth the entry price but I am guessing the birds get full of seed by afternoon and you dont have the same experience as we did early on a visitor day.

 

We also were able to pet donkeys, burros an Emu and two steers. Here is one of the sweetist cows I have ever been around. I think this is a Guernsey steer( but not sure) the other one in the photo is a white donkey both loved getting our attention.

Bull at Hovatters zoo licking our hand

JoLynn Powers, Christopher Powers and Paige Powers feeding a ( what I think is a) Guernsey steer at Hovatter’s Zoo. 

The kids enjoyed seeing all of the wonderful animals that were on display the even had Bears and lions that you could see well and live peacocks struting around the property.  They were able to feed camels and monkeys through special tubes built into their enclosers and a large Emu who liked to peck at your hand with its beak.

The staff is nice and the animals all seemed happy, healthy, and well-fed. I am sure that some of these animals, including the large cats, are rescued from other Zoos or carnivals. Some are old and some very young but they all were refreshing to see and feed.  I really enjoyed hearing  a lion roar and the monkeys playing and swinging in their cages. img_20200602_115021939

A couple hours later we let the kids hit the gift shop. It looks like they enjoyed the day too. With toys in hand, we left the park and all of the sweet animals for a late lunch and headed home knowing that we would be back again one day.

For a family day, I can’t say enough lovely things about Hovatters Wildlife Zoo. It’s a small treasure of wild animals off the beatten path in Kingwood, WV.  for more information about the zoo you can find them here Hovatters Wildlife Zoo.

Being outside with the kids was so refreshing while the state was still just reopening and the thought of doing much was limited. I hope if you are in the area you look them up and spend a day petting, feeding, and sharing with all of these wonderful animals.

Here is a gallery of some of the animal we met at the Zoo:

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Categories: animal health, Baby Animals, Hovatter's Wildlife Zoo, Preston County WV, West Virginia, wildlife, Zoo | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

All for the Sake of Dogs: My visit to the Old Hemlock Foundation.

Summer has gotten ahead of me this year. We have been traveling a lot for work and pleasure. So I have a back log of stories about the people, places, and events which, I have been enjoying. Needless to say, I love the people of my state. I have met some really wonderful people this summer like LeJay and Hellen Ann Graiffious, director and caretakers at  Old Hemlock Foundation.

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Lejay Hellen Willow and Laurel

LeJay Graffious with Mountain Laurel and Helen Ann Graffious with Black Willow. Used with permission of OHF.

On the other hand, I am about to say good-bye to some absolutely wonderful AmeriCorps volunteers. It is August and it is the end of their year term, so things are very hectic as some leave and some join the program. So, I wanted share one of the many stories that could be written about another AmeriCorps Site, Old Hemlock Foundation in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia, where I did some hiking this summer.

Tucked away in some of the most beautiful old growth forest property in North Central West Virginia is the Old Hemlock Foundation, the home of George Bird Evans and his wife, Kay. Known internationally as an author, an artist, a husband and dog breeder of profound influence, George called a rural 230 acres in Preston County home. His life could be defined as a Renaissance Man of the last century, a man who lived life on his own terms. Yet, this post today is more about the writings of George and his wife,  Kay, the property the foundation cares for and the DOGS. Oh my, the beautiful dogs!

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 Mountain. Laurel,(back)  Black Willow (front) English Setters  of the Old Hemlock line.Photo used with permission OHF.

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Mt. Laurel in the lap of Tom and Christopher Powers in the home of George Bird Evans.

The relationship we have with dogs can be profound. At the Old Hemlock Foundation a guest enjoys hearing the story of how and why George began the Old Hemlock line of  English Setters, about his love of upland game bird hunting, and the land that he called home. You experience their lives in a personal and inmate way surrounded by their belongings and dogs. The entire visit felt as if George and his wife, Kay, had just stepped out for a trip to town and left my family with the two dogs and neighbors for company. The opportunity to explore their home, enjoy their writings, see their artwork and spend time with their dogs immerses you in the experience unlike most museums or art gallery exhibits.  You begin to feel their presence as you walk the pathways to the house and walk into the woods they saved from timbering.

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Living room bookcase with the writings of George Bird Evans.

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Mt. Laurel sleeping on bed

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Fireplace surround and Mantel in Master Bedroom of George and Kay Evans.

The home of George Bird and Kay Harris Evans, built-in 1815 was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014 and is still the location of many of family’s personal belongings. Seeing where this talented man spent his hours reading, writing and drawing was enlightening. To be able to write  professionally at the small desk by a north window of their home was impressive. George was dedicated to sharing his stories and helping people understand his life in the field hunting for grouse and working his dogs. It is apparent to me now that the house and desk were merely vessels that George used to get his message out into the universe. His life, home and books will be a source of inspiration for years to come, as I continue to aspire to be a writer.

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Illustrations created by George Bird Evans for Cosmopolitan Magazine.

 

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George Bird Evans photo on top of the desk in the photo.

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Front View of the home of George and Kay Evanses with side porch showed in the sun circa 1780

When you see the photos of the family with their beloved dogs displayed proudly on the walls you begin to understand the family’s connection with the English Setters. With no children of their own the dogs were a constant source of love, affection, laughter, and respect. George writes about his dogs, not in an anthropomorphic way, but in a transcendental mystic way, making his relationship with the animals a spiritual connection. A relationship built on shared respect and the joy.

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Mountain Laurel planted by Kay, blooms at the front wall of the Evanses’s Home

The joy that he experienced with his dogs is shared with guests still today. LeJay and Helen Ann Graffious live with two Old Hemlock Setters on the property. So in the tradition of George and Kay there is never an un-dog related pleasant moment. Willow and Laurel, registered Old Hemlock English Setters, make each and every person feel at home and welcome on the property. The speckled coated dogs( known as belton coats) attend every hike, every meal and class that is given on the property.  They are magical animals … and  I see why George spent a life time writing about the deep love he had for the Old Hemlock breed line.

George began journaling his hunting outings in 1932.With these as his foundation, in the 1950’s he wrote magazine articles about his dogs and hunting adventures. in 1971 he published his first of 21 upland game hunting books. His well known hunting books and a hundred articles are still regarded as some of the best outdoor publications.  He shared his deep respect for the game he hunted, the dogs he raised and the connection he shared with nature. His romantic style of writing that painted vivid images for readers and is unique in the genre. It is easy to understand why his expert writings are still studied, and revered some 19 years after his death. He still has much to share with anyone who wants to learn about upland game hunting, nature and training dogs….. or is it “how dogs train us”?

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George Bird Evans with  Robert  Brown current owner of the Old Hemlock Line with the dogs at his home in Bruceton Mills. Used with permisson of OHF.

While at the property we spent a large portion of our time walking the trails that surround the welcome center and log home. With dogs and kids running and playing in front of us we explored some of the old growth Hemlock trees of which the property is named. I regret deeply that I cannot convey to you the awe that I experienced when we entered the deep dark Hemlock forest. It was something like a fantasy  movie set or a church… Yet, none of these words comes close to relating how  startling it is to leave the lush green sunny forest of the hardwood canopy and enter a tall stand of climax Hemlock trees. Everything changes in an instant. The light dims as it tries to shine through the conifer bows. The colors change, there is no bright greens or yellows, just deep rich greens and grays. The height is different, there are no branches that droop and hang low. The Hemlocks stand 80 feet high with broken stumps of branches reaching out to you.  Even the ground is  transformed, with only gray rocks, deep brown dirt and the lush green of moss and ferns under foot.

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Welcome and Education Center for The Old Hemlock Foundation 2017

 

As our group forged ahead of me into the darkness of the thick Hemlocks, I entered the stand alone and last. With Helen Ann with in hearing distance of me, I actually let out an audible exhale, one loud enough to be heard several feet away. I then continued with an “Oh My” and heard from ahead on the trail Helen’s reply, “This is why they refer to Hemlock forests as Cathedrals”… (Also look up Cathedral State Park in West Virginia for other stands of old growth Hemlocks).It is so impressive, that I now crave to see these kinds of woods again and again. I am so thankful that George and Kay found this property and chose to save the Hemlocks from the sawyer. It is another magical part of the Old Hemlock Foundation that should not be missed.

 

 

 

 

After our two-day stay, we packed up to leave the  foundation’s property,  I  knew I had found a place where kindred spirits had lived. We share a love for nature, dogs, writing, art and a passion for sharing what we love most. Thank you to the foundation for allowing us to be part of your education outreach program and for inviting my family back to explore more of the wonders of Wild Wonderful West Virginia.

For more information about the Old Hemlock Foundation, educational programs, history and the dogs, follow the above link to their website or follow them on Facebook at  www.facebook.com/OldHemlockFoundation/. 

Laurel from Old Hemlock

Mountain Laurel Old Hemlock English Setter 2107 age 2

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, Dogs, George Bird Evans, Hemlock Forest, hiking, historic locations, Hunting, Old Hemlock Foundation, Preston County WV, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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