Elk Feeding Station (Naches)

January 2, 2009 by  

January and February are the best months for viewing elk at the Oak Creek feeding station near Naches. Kids will enjoy bundling up for a ride on the safari-style truck tours that provide an up-close look at the animals.

Each winter, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife provides a supplementary feeding program for up to 1,500 elk — including as many as 150 branched-antler bulls — to keep them from damaging private property. (Humans, you see, have inhabited the herd’s winter range.)

REMEMBER!

• Dress warmly.

• Bring a camera.

• Make reservations if you’d like to go out on the truck: 509-698-5106.

• Be quiet. Wild animals don’t like loud noises

For families, the feeding station is a cheap and easy field trip, located about 20 miles west of Yakima on U.S. Highway 12. The elk are fed daily at 1:30 p.m., though you’ll find animals there throughout the day.

A fence separates the elk from the viewing area, but the animals are free to head up to the hills, so their numbers vary throughout the season. More will visit the feeding station when snow and extreme cold prevents them from grazing naturally.

Also worth a stop, bighorn sheep are fed mid-morning at the nearby Cleman Mountain feeding site, just a couple miles up the road. Feeding season for both the elk and bighorns is typically mid-December to early March.

There’s a visitor center at the elk’s Oak Creek Headquarters, open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily during the elk’s feeding season. The center has a video program, exhibits and a hands-on kids’ corner where children can get a feel for elk fur and antlers. There’s no charge, but donations are accepted to help support the feeding program.

Volunteers can take you for a ride into the feeding area on an old open-air Army truck. Tours typically depart at noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Tours are first-come, first-served, but reservations are accepted; call ahead at least 48 hours in advance if you’re visiting with a large group, as the trucks are limited to 14 passengers. Call 509-698-5106 for tour reservations.

During the tour, the truck will drive slowly out into the field and then kill the engine so you can quietly observe the elk. A docent provides some information and answers questions. Bring a camera, and be sure and dress warmly; the tours typically last about 30 minutes.

If you have preschoolers, please note that the volunteers prefer a 1:1 adult-child ratio for younger kids. Also, the children need to refrain from yelling or making other loud noises since the elk are easily startled.

If you’re hungry for more details, there’s a ton of information about the animals and the feeding stations on the Naches Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Web site. Or, call the Oak Creek Wildlife area at 509-653-2390.

HOW TO GET THERE
Oak Creek Headquarters (elk): Drive west on U.S. Highway 12 and continue past Naches. At the junction with Hwy 410, turn left, continuing on Hwy 12. About two miles past the junction, the feeding station will be on the right.

Cleman Mountain feeding station (bighorn sheep): Drive west on U.S. Highway 12 and continue past Naches. At the junction with State Route 410, stay straight, heading west on SR 410 for about one block, then make a sharp right on the Old Naches Highway. The feeding station is on the left.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELK FACTS
• Rocky Mountain Elk from Yellowstone National Park were introduced to Yakima County in 1913.
• Bulls weigh an average of 450-900 lbs.
• Cows are pregnant for 270 days (about 9 months).
• Twin calves are rare.
• Antlers (found only on the bulls) fall off in the spring and regrow by August.
• Wintering elk may eat 3 to 10 lbs of hay per day at the feeding stations.

— Source: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

ABOUT BIGHORN SHEEP
• Both Rocky Mountain and California bighorn sheep are native to Washington.
• Can live up to 17 years, but general life expectancy is 10-12 years.
• Rocky Mountain bighorns are larger than the California sub-species. Rocky Mountain rams weigh 160-315 lbs, while a California ram weighs about 180-205 lbs.
• The gestation period for ewes is 180 days (about 6 months).
• Twin lambs do occur.
• Both rams and ewes have horns, which never fall off and continue to grow through the sheep’s lifetime.

— Source: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife


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