When you think of wolves, you probably think of the great open spaces of Montana or Wyoming—not New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the union. I do too. So I was curious as I drove on a recent morning to the far western reaches of our state, in search of the Lakota Wolf Preserve.
But there it is—on 10 acres of heavily wooded property in the mountain ridges of the Delaware Water Gap, near the Pennsylvania border. On this particular day, the Preserve’s shuttle bus isn’t running, so I hike about half a mile uphill on a dirt road, following pictures of wolf-paw prints posted on the trees to guide visitors. The sun is bright and the air, cool and crisp. When I reach the Preserve, which leases its land from the Camp Taylor Campground, I’m invited into the observation area, where I’m surrounded by four packs of Gray wolves.
Okay, so they’re all behind very high chain-link fences in four different compounds, but that doesn’t lessen the effect. The wolves are resplendent in their lush winter coats: the Timber and Tundra wolves, a rich black and gray; their Arctic brethren, a brilliant white. My guide and co-owner of the Lakota Wolf Preserve, Jim Stein, tosses a couple of treats over the fences to entice the wolves closer. By nature, they are wary of humans.
“Kimba, where are you?” Stein calls. “This is what pays for dinner. Come on, come on.”
Concerned about declining populations of the then-endangered Gray wolf, as well as the deplorable conditions of wolves in captivity, Stein and his partners, Dan and Pam Bacon, moved eight wolves here from their Colorado facility 12 years ago, with the goal of creating a spacious, natural habitat. Today, 21 Gray wolves roam the Preserve.
There are wolf watches twice daily, at 10:30 am and 4 pm. Visitors are advised to arrive half an hour early to register at the Camp Taylor office. The informative program lasts about 90 minutes, during which you’ll learn much about the Gray wolf—its habits, its diet, its social status in a pack. And its howl.
“The main reason they howl is to join or rally the pack together,” Stein says. “They howl when they’re sad. They howl when they’re excited. They howl when they hear a fire siren off in the distance because they think it’s another pack intruding on their territory. Sometimes we can get them to howl. You have to howl first, like a pack of wolves.”
Linda Purcell of Ramsey, NJ, who’s on the tour with her husband, Doug, lets out a piercing yowl. And Apache, the Preserve’s best howler, answers from her perch on a log. More howls from Purcell and Stein are echoed by howls from the wolf population, as each wolf raises its voice to be heard. It’s a wondrous and unforgettable moment—making the visit, without a doubt, well worth it to school-aged children and grown-ups alike.
For more information about the Lakota Wolf Preserve in Columbia, NJ, including entry fee, call 877-733-9653.
Where does your family like to go for a howling good time? Leave us a comment!
Mary Ann McGann is a freelance writer from New Jersey.